5th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr Speaker took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers
– I ask the Minister of Trade and Customs whether he has read the following statements, which appeared in . the Sydney Morning Herald on Friday last?-
– The honorable memwill not be in order in asking a question and reading a newspaper statement
– I ask the Minister whether, in view of the fact that the SydneyMorning Herald has now become a convert to the views of those who are against the quarantine regulations of this Government, and is charging it with seriously interfering with the interests of the State in maintaining an ineffective quarantine, the Government is prepared to relieve the people of the State by raising the embargo that has been put on them.
– I have not seen the ar - ticle referred to, butI am not of the opinion that the quarantine regulations have been ineffective. It is a good thing for the public health of Australia that the disease has been confined within a restricted area, and any further action that the Government may take will be based, not on the opinion of a newspaper, but on the actual facts of the situation as ascertained by those by whose advice we are guided in the administration of public affairs relating to health.
-Although the appeal to the Minister to remove the quarantine embargo from Sydney before the date fixed for the reception of the Fleet was not acceded to, can the honorable gentleman give a reason why the embargo should not be removed before the first Tuesday in November - Melbourne Cup day?
– The action of the Department in this matter is based on considerations other than the fact that events of the nature referred to are taking place in various parts of Australia.
– Has the Minister received the request from Cootamundra, Albury, or other important towns in the Hume electorate where cases of small-pox have occurred, that the quarantine regulalations shall be made a little more stringent, to prevent the further dissemination of disease from Sydney?
– No such request has been received.
– Is the Minister aware that more persons are suffering from the effects of vaccination and more persons have died as the result of vaccination than there are alleged small-pox patients at the quarantine station at North Sydney ?
-The question is not in order , it is furnishing information, not seeking it.
– I ask the Minister of Trade and Customs whether the proclamation issued by the Federal Government, with reference to the small-pox epidemic in Sydney, has meant the salvation of the merchants of Flinders-lane, Melbourne, and whether he thinks it fair under our Constitution that one part of Australia should be benefited while another is injured?
– I am not aware that the proclamation has been the salvation of Flinders-lane, Melbourne Statistics show that a fair volume of trade has been taking place in Sydney, notwithstanding the issue of the proclamation, which had one purpose only, and that was to preserve the public health of Australia.
– The Prime Minister told us the other day that he had made an. offer to the Premier of New South Wales, that if the New South Wales Parliament would pass a Vaccination Bill the embargo would be removed upon the people of that State. I ask now, whether the Government have informed the Premier of New South Wales that if the New South , Wales Government will isolate small areas in connexion with the small-pox the embargo will be removed?
– I ask the honorable member to give notice of that question, because I understand that the Prime Minister has now under consideration a letter that has been received by him.
– In view of the. criticism of the Premier and Treasurer of Victoria and the Treasurer of Queensland in regard to the introduction of a Bill for the consolidation of the debts of the States without previous consultationof the State Governments, I ask the Treasurer if it is intended to convene, a conference of State Premiers and Treasurers for the discussion of the question whether the Commonwealth Bank should be made the pivot of Australian finance, and used for theflotation, conversion, redemption, and renewal of loans, and the financing of the Commonwealth, State, municipal, and shire borrowings ?
-I shall have to give the matter consideration.
– On the 26th of last month the Leader of the Opposition asked a question relating to a letter received by the Queensland Farmers’ Union from an Electoral Registrar in the State. I promised’ to inquire into the matter, and I shall now read the Chief Electoral Officer’s report on it, which is as follows: -
The Commonwealth Electoral Officer for Queensland is in communication with the Divisional Returning Officer for Wide Bay, andthe Registrar for the subdivision of Kilkivan West in relation to this matter, with a view to guarding against the possibility of an objection being improperly lodged in respect of any name appearing on the roll.
The only instruction issued is that quoted by the Minister in Parliament on the 30th ultimo, vide Hansard, No. 14, page 1570.
It is the duty of the Electoral Registrar (under the provisions of section 69 of the Electoral Act), to lodge or make an objection, in writing, setting forth the grounds of objection in respect’ of any name which he has reason to believe ought not to be retained on the roll;
While a. registrar, in discharging his duties, under section 69 of the Act, may consider any representations made to him, in writing,which appear to indicate that certain names should no longer remain on the roll, the Chief Electoral Officer has issued a definite direction that he (the registrar) must in no case act on such representations until he has made independent inquiries, through the police or postal authorities, and has fully satisfied himself in the matter. The attention of Divisional Returning Officers and registrars has been specially drawn, by the Chief Electoral Officer, to the necessity of exercising the greatest care in respect of objections on the ground, of non-residence in the division.
– I desire to ask the. Minister of External Affairs if he read the cablegram which was published inthe press on Friday last, stating that Governor Macquarie’s manuscripts, consisting mostly of accounts of his tours in New South Wales and Tasmania, are to be offered at auction in London in February next. There are twenty- nine lots, but they will, in the first instance, be submitted as one lot. I should like to explain- -
-The honorable member may not make a speech.
– Surely he can explain his question.
-I am the judge of whether an honorable member is in order, in the manner in which he is framing his question. He may not make a speech nor a statement of facts, but must confine himself to a question.
– In view of the great historical value of these documents, will the Minister instruct the High Commissioner’s office to enter into negotiations, with a view to purchasing them for the people of Australia?
– The matterisone which comes more properly within the province of the Library Committee, and it is to receivetheir considerationery shortly.
– Inasmuch as Commonwealth statesmen like Sir Edmund Barton, Mr. Kingston, Sir George Turner, and Sir John Forrest have supported womanhood suffrage, I ask the Honorary
Minister whether the Government do not resent the insult that has been placed on over 1,000,000 of the citizens of Australia by Sir Almroth Wright in the statement that-
– The question is not in order. It is not in order to ask a Minister for an expression of opinion on a newspaper report of something stated to have been said by another person in another country.
– I would like the Honorary Minister to give the opinion of the .Government as to their being described as pawns in the game of politics ?
– The honorable member refers to a statement alleged to have been made in London.
– Order ! As the question is out of order, it is also out of order to reply. It is not in order to ask a question founded on newspaper reports of the utterances of people in another country.
– This is purely a question of Australian electors.
– It is a newspaper report, and, moreover, refers to an alleged expression of opinion by some one in another country, and has nothing to do with any business before this House. It does not come within the category of allowable questions.
– Will the Honorary Minister ascertain from the Returning Officers and the Electoral Registrars in every electorate the procedure which is followed by them in connexion with the certified roll, whether it is available in an electorate for any person to see ? Will he endeavour to have a uniform arrangement, so that any person may be able to go and see the certified roll?
– When will you get the information ?
– As soon as possible.
– Will the Assistant Minister of Home Affairs tell the House of the number of dummy electoral cards put into the index cabinets in the various States ?
– I had information that this question was to be asked.
– It is a pure rig.
– I can assure honorable members that when an’ honorable member has the courtesy to let a Minister know that he is going to submit a question, it is very much appreciated. I have the information for the honorable member. It is as follows: -
There were 61,000 dummy cards placed in the index cabinets in New South Wales; 20,000 in Victoria; 20,000 in Queensland; 13,590 in South Australia; 32,198 in Western Australia; and 17,070 in Tasmania; total 163,858.
– Would it not be better to call them temporary cards?
– Order !
– They understand dummying better on that side of the House.
– Order! I have several times called for order, and each time honorable members have immediately afterwards interjected. Frequently I have had occasion to call attention to the extreme disorderliness of such conduct, and I hope it will not be repeated.
– The purpose for which these cards were inserted in the index was thoroughly explained in an answer I gave to the House yesterday afternoon.
– Has the Honorary Minister the number of dummy cards that were in the index cabinets on election day ?
– I cannot give those figures off-hand, but if the honorable member asks the. question to-morrow I shall be prepared with” an answer. I invite the attention of honorable members to the reply I gave yesterday afternoon, when I stated that less than 1 per cent, of these cards were outstanding at the date of the election.
– Following on that answer-
– I have already called the attention of honorable members to the fact that it is contrary to parliamentary practice to put a series of questions to Ministers arising out of an answer already given.
– My question bears very much on the answer already given, and I should -like to have the information. I wish to know whether it is a fact that these dummy cards were gathered in by order of the Chief Electoral Officer, and not of the Minister?
– The honorable member’s question is not. in order, and is clearly designed to evade the ruling- already given and the practice of Parliament hitherto. A further question is only permissible to make the answer more clearly understood. A debate by means of a further series of questions founded on a reply to the first is against the practice of Parliament.
– I desire to ask the Honorary Minister who created the dummy card system - the Minister of Home Affairs or the head of the Electoral Department 1
– If the honorable member will look to the full answer I gave to a question yesterday, he will get the information.
– Will the Assistant Minister of Home Affairs kindly ask the Chief Electoral Officer if I ever gave him any instructions in regard to dummy cards ? I never heard of them.
– I do not quite gather whether my honorable friend wants me to ask the Chief Electoral Officer what confidences have passed between them.
– Order ! Will the honorable member resume his seat?
– Yes, sir.
– I will not receive any more questions bearing on that matter. I have already given a ruling on the subject, and these questions are simply attempts to get behind the ruling. These are questions arising out of an answer already given by the Minister pretty fully to a question asked without notice. To ask a series of questions without notice, arising out of the answer of a Minister, is practically to raise a debate, and that cannot be allowed by means of further questions or -otherwise.
– On a point of order, sir. On one day of this week there was on the business-paper a notice which contained a grave reflection upon the late Government. I understand that you altered the notice afterwards, but before it was altered it was issued to the public at large. I wish to know whether you rule that the members of the Labour party cannot vindicate their character in connexion with the dummy cards, seeing that the honorable member for Echuca, by a notice on the business-paper, which was. circulated to all parts of Australia, passed a grave reflection on the late Administration. I ask you, sir, whether it is not in order to try to elicit the truth in connexion with the dummy cards 1
– Order ! It will be quite in order to do what the honorable member refers to, in the manner which is provided for in our Standing Orders, but it will not be in order to try to do what the honorable member wants to do now by means of a series of questions founded on a Minister’s reply to a question already asked. When the question asked by the honorable member for Echuca appeared on the notice-paper, my attention was called by the honorable member for Capricornia to its character. I told him then that I had not seen the question prior to it appearing on the business-paper’, but I would look into the question, and anything which was of an objectionable character, or appeared to savour of being objectionable, would be eliminated before the notice again appeared on the businesspaper. That was done.
– It went out to the public.
– Agenda-papers are circulated in the chamber mainly for the information of honorable members regarding the business of the day, and are not, in the. ordinary sense, public documents intended for general circulation outside., though it is true that they are circulated within a limited area.
– I desire to ask the Attorney-General if, in his opinion, the Government of New South Wales were entitled to issue. 200 special invitations to persons to occupy Government House during the Fleet celebrations, considering that the question of ejecting the GovernorGeneral is sUb judice?
– I think that that is a matter on which I must not give my opinion.
– I desire to ask the Attorney-General a question affecting, very seriously the potato-growers of Victoria, and that is in connexion with, a regulation which has been made by various States prohibiting the export of potatoes from Victoria unless they are contained .-.in new bags. This embargo is ruining a good many of the potato-growers in Victoria, and, if I might be permitted, sir, for a moment, I wish to point out–
– Order ! The honorable member is not entitled to make a. speech. He will have to get the leave of the House if he desires to make a statement beyond what is necessary merely to explain his question.
– I ask for leave.
– Isit the desire of the House that the honorable member for Ballarat should have leave to make a statement? There being no objection, leave is granted.
– I desire to make the position clear to the Attorney-General. One of the reasons which brought about Federation-
– There were three “ Noes “ on this side.
– I understand that therewas an objection to leave being granted. I did not hear it.
– I did not hear it either.
– I am told that there were three “Noes” on the right-hand side of the chair.
– Who were they ?
– Let them stand up.
– Order! Leave can only be given by the unanimous assentof the House. I will put the question again, in fairness to the House.Is it the desire of the House that the honorable member for Ballarat should have leave to make a statement ?
– The honorable member may not proceed .
-When Federation was established, all Inter-State duties were abolished; but a proclamation has been issued by certain States in regard to the importation of potatoes in secondhand bags which accomplishes what a protective duty would do, and really prevents the export of potatoes from Victoria to those States. I wish . to ask the AttorneyGeneral whether such a proclamation or regulationisnot contrary to the Comvmonwealth Constitution ?
MrW.H.IRVINE. - I recognise the importanceof the matter to which the
Honorablmember has referred, but I thihkhe willperceive that it would not beat all proper for me to express an opinionasto thevalidity or otherwise of StateActs of Parliament or regulations. If I did so in one case, I should have to do so in all, and would be prejudging questions that might have to be determined by the ordinary tribunals. There is no Federal regulation relating to this matter. It is a purely State question, and no Federal action can be taken with regard to it. If the State regulations or Acts to which the honorable member refers are invalid, then they need not be obeyed. If, on the other haud, they are valid, they must be obeyed, and no action can be taken by the Federal Government or the Federal Parliament to obviate the inconvenience thereby arising.
– What section of the Constitution would be affected?
– That is a matter on which I cannot enter into a debate with the honorable member at this stage.
- Mr. Speaker, I wish to raise a question concerning the privileges of the members of this House. If you will consult the Standing Orders, you will observe that standing order 92 reads -
After notices have been given, questions may be put to Ministers of the Crown relating to public affairs.
The standing order contains no limitation. The only limitation which, in my opinion, can be put to questions on public affairs is that which can be put by Ministers themselves, who may demand that notice be given. This afternoon, sir, you have refused to the honorable member for Ballarat an opportunity to explain a question. If you will turn to the following standing order, No. 93, having reference to questions which may be asked, you will see that -
In putting any such question, no argument or opinion shall be offered, nor any facts stated, except so far as may be necessary to explain the question.
Surely, sir, you are not going to take up the position that, if an honorable member deems it necessary to state a few facts or such facts as may be requisite to explain his question, he is out of order. That is the attitude which you have taken up to-day. You have gone, if yon will permit me to say so, farther than any Speaker I know of in refusing to allow a Minister to answer a question. I refer to the question put by the honorable member for East Sydney, who asked, Would the Minister of Trade and Customs make inquiries as to how many deaths were taking place under vaccination, and how many small-pox patients are in quarantine ? Surely that is a relevant question, considering the state of affairs in Australia to-day t
Without dwelling on the point, sir, at any great length, I think that you are adopting a very rigid practice, and one which will interfere with honorable members. I submit that if Ministers are not prepared to answer questions, they should boldly ask that the questions should be put on the noticepaper, but you are taking up the attitude that you will not allow Ministers to answer questions.
– Is this a lecture which you are giving the House ?
– Order !
– It is a lecture on the maintenance of our own privileges.
– Order !
Mr.HIGGS. - The honorable member for Wannon is new to the House. When he has been here a little longer he will understand that the rules-
– I appreciate your point of order.
– Order! The honorable member is out of order in interrupting.
– We put up with a little lecture from the honorable member for Wannon when he made his first speech, and we did not mind, because he did it in a very nice, smiling way; but he will find, after he lias been here a little time, that- the Standing Orders were drawn up by a Committee representing both sides of the Chamber, and acting in calm moments, and were agreed to by the House when it was not in a heated state, but in a calm mood, and realized that it was necessary, in the interests of minorities, that there should be standing orders, because majorities, if allowed, always get their own way. In calm and cool moments the Standing Orders were agreed to as embodying what was considered a fair code. I submit that if an honorable member asks a question, and he deems it necessary to enlighten the Minister concerned, to state facts, he is entitled, under the Standing Orders, to do so ; and surely, sir, it is a privilege of the members of the House that a Minister should be allowed to answer a question if he is willing to do so.
– With regard to the question of privilege raised by the honorable member for Capricornia, I desire to point out that I have not attempted to interfere with the right of Ministers to answer questions put to them, provided those questions are in order. But it is distinctly laid down by parliamentary authorities, as well as by the practice of this House, that if a question is not in order, a reply to such a question is equally out of order. 1 have ample authority under our own procedure for the course of action I have followed in this case, and the rulings given by my predecessors are well supported by abundant authority relating to the practice of the House of Commons. Irregular questions should not be answered, and debates on the answers of Ministers to questions are not permissible. As I pointed out on a previous occasion, a question, to be iu order, must relate to business of which Ministers have charge - to the administration of their Departments, or to matters of a public character with which they have to deal. Questions which do not come within that category are not in order. A question must seek information, not give it. I gave to the House only a few days ago the decisions of the most eminentparliamentaryauthorities bearing on this subject, so that it is unnecessary for me to repeat them. Under our own Standing Orders, questions may be put to Ministers in reference to public affairs, but it is the practice of this House, as well as of. every Parliament of which I know, to limit an honorable member’ when asking a question, and especially a question without notice, to only such an explanation as is absolutely necessary to make the question clear. No further amplification is permissible. The honorable member for Ballarat was going beyond it. He was making a speech, which, as I understood it, could not be regarded as being only such a limited explanation as was necessary to make clear the purpose of his question.
– Will you allow me, Mr. Speaker, to ask whether you still rule that the honorable member for East Sydney was not in order in addressing his question to the Minister of Trade and Customs ?
– The honorable member was not in order if he was asking a question arising out of an answer given by a Minister to a question previously put and fully replied to. All parliamentary authorities clearly lay it down that such a practice is quite out of order.
– May I ask, with all respect, sir, whether you have not made a mistake in determining the character of the question put by the honorable member for East Sydney? It seemed to me to be quite distinct from any question previously put to the Minister.
– The question, as I understood it, related to a matter which had already been the subject of a reply to a question by the Minister.
– If I have done the honorable member for East Sydney an injustice, I am very sorry. I shall ask him to again state his question.
– I have a series of . questions to put, but I shall be very lenient.
– The honorable member may ask only one question at a time.
– There is a rumour about, and I want to know whether it is not true, that more people are suffering from vaccination, and that more deaths have occurred from that cause, than there are alleged small-pox patients in Sydney ?
– The honorable member, I think, has already given notice of a question of that kind. ,
– No; I was refused the right to place it on the business-paper.
– The honorable member is now attempting to put, without notice, a question which I would not allow him to place on the business-paper in the form in which it was submitted. I took the trouble to amend his notice of question to put it in proper form. A question which is not in order to be placed on the business-paper, cannot be asked without notice in the same form.
– Where do I come in?
– Order ! A question not seeking information, but conveying a reflection and giving information, is not in order.
– Will the Minister of Trade and Customs make inquiries as to the number of deaths that have occurred from small-pox in Sydney, as well as the number of deaths that have resulted from vaccination in that city, and acquaint the House with the result of his inquiries at the earliest possible opportunity ?
– I shall be glad to obtain the information, if it be possible to do so.
– That is the question which the honorable member for East Sydney desired to put.
– Order ! The question just put by the honorable member for Capricornia was evidently what the honorable member for East Sydney de sired to ask; but I should like to point out to the House the difference between the two. That put by the honorable member for Capricornia asked for information, whereas the honorable member for East Sydney put his question in such a way as to give information, and not to seek it. A question put in the form, “Whether it is not true” that such is the case implies an assertion that it is true, and is, therefore, not really a question seeking information, but rather involving an assertion.
– I should like-
– The honorable member for Nepean.
– I think I have the right-
– Order ! Will the honorable member for Ballarat resume his seat?
– On a point of order-
– No point of order has arisen. I called the honorable member for Nepean. The honorable member for Ballarat will resume his seat.
– I desire to ask the Honorary Minister whether it is the intention of the military authorities to hold an encampment at Long Bay, in November and December next, and, if so, why the Liverpool Manoeuvre Area, which was resumed, at considerable cost for such purposes, is to be passed over for an area which in comjpaison possesses no facilities whatever ?
– I shall have inquiries made, and give the honorable member a. reply in due course.
– In view of the opinions reported to have been expressed by Mr. Watt, Premier of Victoria,, and the well-known antagonism of the Premiers of most of the other States to Federal interference with State borrowings, does not the Treasurer think it would be just as well to drop at once his State Debts Bill?
– I feel sure that the Treasurer did not intend any discourtesy to me by his neglect to answer my question. I should like to put it to him again.
– Order ! It is not in order for an honorable member to again ask a question which a Minister has nob replied to.
– I think the Treasurer could not have heard my question.
MINISTERS laid on the table the following papers: -
International Forest Congress held at Paris, June, 1913 - Report by Professor Percy Groom, M.A., D.Sc.
Ordered to be printed.
Naval Defence Act - Provisional Regulations - Universal Training - Royal Australian Naval Reserve (O). - Statutory Rules 1913, No. 250.
Public Service Act - List of Permanent Officers of the Commonwealth Public Service, as on 30th June, 1913.
Railways - Statement showing staff employed in the Commonwealth Railways at 30th September, 1913.
– I do not know whether I should address the question I wish to ask to the Acting Minister of Home Affairs or to the Postmaster-General. It has reference to the Prahran Post-office, and seeing that a large sum of money is involved, I ask ‘whether both Ministers, prior to a final decision being arrived at in connexion with the matter, will give the House an opportunity of expressing an opinion as to whether the property in question should not be handed back to the Prahran Municipal Council?
– The matter referred to by the honorable member is now under consideration.
– I wish to ask the Minister representing the Prime Minister whether consideration will be given to a request I have to make in connexion with the South-street competitions at Ballarat. I would postpone the question but for the fact that invitations to attend the competitions are now being issued by the committee in charge of them. It is well known that Ballarat is the centre of music in the Commonwealth. All the bands of Australia will be represented there on 24th October, and as I understand that invitations to be present have been issued to Federal members, I wish to ask the Minister representing the Prime Minister if he will consider the advisability of proposing an adjournment of the Federal Parliament over the date named, in order that honorable members may have an opportunity to attend the competitions?
– I think that I can safely answer for the Prime Minister that it will not be convenient to do so.
asked the Minister of Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– The Answers to the honorable member’s questions are -
asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
Whether he will furnish a return showing in detail the names, salaries, allowances, and time occupied by officers of the Postmaster-General’s Department and of the witnesses called on Behalf of the Department to defend the case of the Australian Postal Electricians Union against the Postmaster-General and the Public Service Commissioner?
– The necessary details are not available to enable an accurate return to be prepared.
asked the PostmasterGeneral, u’pon notice -
– Inquiries are being made, and the desired information will be furnished as early as possible.
.- As the Government have already introduced a measure dealing with the subjectmatter of my motion-
– I rise to a point of order. I should like to ask whether the motion standing in the name of the honorable member for Wilmot is in order, in view of the fact that a practically similar motion was moved last week, and now appears on the business-paper.
– I gathered from what the honorable member for Wilmot was saying that he desired to ask permission to withdraw his motion.
– That was my intention.
– If the motion is out of order it is unnecessary for the honorable member to ask permission to withdraw it.
– As a motion of similar effect, although not couched in similar terms, has already been moved by the honorable member for Bass, and the discussion of the motion standing in the name of the honorable member for Wilmot would anticipate the adjourned debate on the motion already moved, I must, in the circumstances, rule the motion of the honorable member for Wilmot out of order.
– On a point of order-
– The Speaker has ruled.
– I do not raise any point of order on your ruling, sir, but a general point of order. Two motions dealing with this particular .matter were given notice of on the same day-
– I rise to a point of order. The honorable member is now discussing your ruling.
– I do not know what the honorable member for Wentworth proposes to say.
– If honorable members opposite object, I can see the Speaker on the matter privately.
– If the honorable member will state his point of order, I shall be able to judge the nature of it.
– My point is that two motions were submitted on the same day, one slightly in advance of the other, and owing to the accident of the order in which the business was taken the motion last given notice of appeared first on the paper.
– This point was raised on a previous occasion, and I gave a decision upon it. My attention was drawn to the fast that both notices cf motion were handed in at the one time, and subsequently appeared on the business-paper. The time at which exception should have been taken was when a notice was handed in dealing with a matter covered by a notice previously handed in. Owing to the confusion of general conversation, I failed to catch the purport of either motion, and both appeared on the businesspaper in the usual course. When the first of the motions came up for discussion I had to rule that the one on the notice-paper for that particular day should take precedence of the other. That motion has already been moved, and I must, therefore, rule that the notice of motion standing in the name of the honorable member for Wilmot is out of order, as it now anticipates an adjourned debate on a similar motion.-
– Am I to understand that you rule that when two motions are handed in covering the same subjectmatter, and one is moved, the other must be removed from the business-paper.
– That is so when one of the motions has been moved. When my attention is drawn to the fact that one of two practically similar motions has been moved,- I must disallow the further one, which would then anticipate discussion of the one already moved.
.- I move-
Th.it, in view of the fact that the ^13,000 annually paid foi the carriage of mails between Tasmania and the mainland would pay the in terest and sinking fund on a Government-owned steam-ship line, this House is of opinion that it is desirable that the Government should .immediately establish and operate a fast steamer service between Australia .and Tasmania.
To begin with, Tasmania does not possess any of the “advantages which are enjoyed by the mainland States, for the simple reason that to all intents and purposes it is isolated. It has no railway communication with any of the other States. The distance from Burnie to Melbourne is 215 miles, and that from Launceston to Melbourne 276 miles. It is 180 odd miles from Melbourne to Stanley, the nearest port of Tasmania. The business of that State has now reached substantial proportions, but though it has a population of 200,000, it is virtually in the hands or in the coils of a great steam-ship monopoly. This terrestrial serpent encircles within its slimy folds the whole of the producers of that little island. Not one shilling’s worth of produce can be forwarded by the 200,000 inhabitants of Tasmania to any part of the world, without they pay toll to this great corporation. We would’ not mind paying this toll if we could get our product transported at the same rates as are charged for the transportation of produce from the other States. But it costs from 25 to 50 per cent, more to forward produce from Tasmania to Sydney than it does to carry it from Brisbane or Adelaide to Sydney, notwithstanding that the distance is some hundreds of miles less. I think that my honorable friends opposite, who have come here to represent the producers of this country, ought to sympathize with the people of Tasmania. If the Labour Government had not suffered a temporary set-back on the 31st May last, there is no doubt that we would now be establishing a fast line of steam-ships between Tasmania and the mainland. Mr. Graham, one of the eminent Ministers of Victoria, is not only in favour of fast lines of steam -ships to carry produce between the different States, but he is also in favour of the establishment of a Commonwealth line of steamers to carry our.produce to the Old Country. I have no illfeeling towards the Government. They are doing their best according to their light, but their light on this occasion is a dark lantern. They have agreed to give the Union Steam-ship Company a sevenyears’ contract for the carriage of mails to and from Tasmania, and to pay that company a subsidy of £15,000 annually. But they have not made the company sign an agreement to reduce its fares and freight charges. I challenge my friends opposite to search the history of the steam-ship lines pf the world, and to point to one which charges as much for carrying a passenger a similar distance as does this particular company. It is 215 miles from Melbourne to Burnie, and the Loongana can cover the distance in twelve hours. Yet a passenger is charged £2 I2s. 6d. for a return ticket.
– Is that for the steerage?
– No, for the saloon. If a passenger desires a .deck cabin to Launceston, a return ticket costs him £3 5s. Now, in the United States, where the people are almost crushed by monopolies, one can travel from Portland, Maine, to New York - a distance of nearly 500 miles - for £. A return ticket can be obtained for 30s.
– The volume of trade is much greater. _ .
– The trade is not half as great proportionately, because the steamers have to compete with great railway lines, and the passengers have to be two nights at sea. Yet, in my day, one could purchase a return ticket for 7^ dollars, or 30s. My honorable friends’ will doubtless say that what they are doing is semi-Socialism. If it is, and the Union Steam-ship Company is a benevolent institution, I would sooner have the American monopolies, because they provide better accommodation, with more conveniences, and at half the cost. A Select Committee was appointed by the Tasmanian Parliament to inquire into the whole question of the freight and passenger charges made by the steam-ship companies. That Committee was appointed at the instance of Mr. Bakhap, who is now a senator representing that State. This body took a great deal of evidence, from which I propose to read a few extracts. Most of the towns in Tasmania are small, because, after all, Launceston would make only a suburb of Melbourne or of Sydney, and the same remark is applicable to Hobart. Mr. E. T. Clemons, a commission, agent doing a large business in Devonport, was examined by the Select Committee as follows : -
Do you consider them [the freights] unreasonably high compared with those on the mainland? - Yes; compared with those on the mainland.
Will you institute any comparison? - To give you one clear instance, the freight from Devonport to Newcastle on chaff is 23s. bd. a ton, and from Adelaide to Newcastle it is only £1.
Adelaide, it must be remembered, is double the distance from Newcastle that Tasmania is.
It is a four days’ journey from Adelaide to Newcastle, steaming all the time, and yet the freight ‘ is less than from here. Consequently, our quotations have to be from 5s. -to 7s. under the mainland price to get business.
A Tasmanian producer, is at a great disadvantage compared with the producers on the mainland.
In that respect the freight rates charged are so high as to constitute a handicap? - Undoubtedly.
This evidence in regard to freight charges was given by. Mr. G. Finlayson, who is connected with a large engineering firm in Devonport.
Are they reasonable or excessive? - They are very excessive.
How do you arrive at a standard of comparison? - The charges from the Old Country to Melbourne, for instance, are sometime* less than from Melbourne to here on heavy lifts.
What would you call a heavy lift? - Anything over six tons. The present charge for a six-ton lift is £35 from Melbourne to Devonport.
That is only a twelve hours’ run, and every one who has studied transportation knows that water carriage is always cheaper than rail carriage.
– Are there facilities for handling these heavy lifts 1
– Splendid facilities. To continue the quotation -
What would the charge be from the Old Country? - About 50s. to 60s. per ton. It varies slightly.
YOU find this a disadvantage in your trade? - Undoubtedly.
Those who start industries in these small towns find it almost impossible to compete with rivals in the big cities of the mainland. According to the evidence, a 6-ton lift that was brought from England to Victoria for £18 cost £35 to be taken from Victoria to Devonport. No wonder it is asked, “ Is this not daylight robbery?” I shall quote now from the evidence of Mr. Unsworth, of the firm of Irvine and McEachean, one of the biggest wine and spirit merchants in Tasmania -
Freight on wines and spirits until about three years ago was the same as for goods - 10s. per ton. It was suddenly raised to 12s. 6d., and when I asked the freight manager of the company for an explanation he said it was to bring it into line with the other States. That was all the satisfaction I got. The ra*es were ‘sed on ordinary goods some little time ago from 10s. to us., wines and spirits were raised 13s. 6d. ; but about three or four months ago, without notice of any kind in any shape or form, wines and spirits were raised to 15s. per ton, or 4s. more than for ordinary cargo. On bottled beer we only pay the same as for ordinary cargo. It is monstrous. For transhipments from England and Scotland, when the rate was >os. per ton, we used to be charged ;s. 6d., and it is now 14s: for wines and spirits.
Those figures are strictly for freights ?- Yes.
In connexion with your transhipments from England and Scotland there has been an increase of “almost too per cent. ? - Yes. They used to charge 7s. 6d., and now we pay 14s. and the charges.
Mr. Edward Ingledew, a leading merchant of Launceston, was examined by Mr. Whitsitt, a prominent member of the House, and an eminent financial man. This is some of his evidence -
It seems to me there is an unholy combine existing at the present time, or shall we call it an honorable understanding”? Do you consider the present charges are fair and reasonable?I consider the rates of freight are too high. I will give >‘ou an instance. In regard to «nan> prior to the rate on potatoes being raised from 10s. to us., the rate on chaff was 1,5s. It was then put up to 16s., a shilling increase to apply to chaff the same us to potatoes. There was some trouble at the Sydney wharfs, and they raised it to 17s. per ton, maximum, 25 bags to the ton. Straw-chaff, though perhaps 27 or 28 bags to the ton, would be charged freight as 25. If weighing 20 bags to the ton, you would declare it_ on 20, so that they cut it both ways. The existing rate now to Sydney is 18s., as against 12s. 6d. from Adelaide to Sydney.
I ask honorable members if Tasmania can work out her financial salvation when shehas to pay charges like these, and is in the hands of a trust? This Government have virtually entered into a contract, which, for a further period of years,, leaves the trust in control of the lives, hopes, and aspirations of 200,000 persons,, most of whom are struggling; because, in a small place, it takes years to make afair start. The Government, instead of signing the contract to which I refer,, should have put on a line of fast, Stateowned steamers.
– How fast?
– Steamers capable of travelling from twenty-five to thirty miles an hour. I do not want any of your antiquated boats that they had in the days of Adam. Tasmania to-day is paying from 25 to 50 per cent, more in freight than any other State in the Union to get her produce to market.
– Not to get her produce to the overseas markets.
– We send copper, gold, tin, fruit, and wool overseas, and are not treated so badly in respect of that freight. The overseas people are better Christians than are the people of the States. The latter want missionariessent among them. Let me read some more evidence -
On potatoes during a few years, one of the most staple products of Tasmania, the freight has jumped from 9s. to ns. a ton.
Every farmer is taxed another 2s. a ton on potatoes, because there’ is a monopoly. Were not the freights high enough before ?
– Is the honorable member sure that the increase, in freights is not due to the action of the wharf labourers and of the various unions?
– I do not see how it can be. On leather, an important Tasmanian product,, the freight has increased 50 per cent., and the freight on wool and flour, and all other articles, has been correspondingly advanced. This is the evidence of a Tasmanian -
So far as fares are concerned, well they are something terrible; £i r2S. 6d. between Melbourne and Launceston, and, if you want a deck berth, it is £2 2S- 6d.
– Is that not due to the Navigation Act?
– The Act has not yet been put into force. It costs as much to travel from Tasmania to the mainland and back as to travel from New York to Chicago, a distance of 1,000 miles.
– What do you pay for a state cabin from New York to Liverpool ?
– Of course, if a man requires a. cabin de luxe, he must pay for it, but he cannot get one between Melbourne and Tasmania.
– The cabins are very good.
– They are good; they ought to be for what it costs the traveller. My complaint is that the people of Tasmania are being penalized. Tasmania is one of the integral parts of tlie Union.
– Do you not think Tasmania should join with Victoria?
– Tasmania could have bought and sold Victoria if it had had good Governments for the last fifty years. The trouble has been that poor little “ Tassy “ has been under the weight of the dead hand. “ Boodle “ has been running it. In my opinion, the lives of the people of Tasmania are being jeopardized, because, with one exception, the boats that travel to Tasmania are antiquated, though they participate in this agreement, which gives a monopoly of a seven years’ lease, into which the Government have entered.
– All the boats are safe.
– I do not say they are not safe. An old man is safe, but he is not capable of running against a boy of .twenty-two. The time has come when the old boats running between Tasmania and the mainland should be retired, or put on the cattle-carrying trade; but the Tasmanian Christians must travel in them, or not travel at all.
– Do you consider the Oonah is past her time?
– If one is developing and managing a great corporation, he cannot take one branch only ; he must take the whole business. It is claimed that this steamer trade is not profitable, but, according to the evidence that I am quoting, one boat, owned by the combine, plying between Hobart and Sydney, earned £43,000 in one season, while the expenses of that vessel were less than £20,000; so that there was a profit of £23,000 in that one season on the running of that boat. Another gentleman estimated that the freights from southern Tasmania were worth £30,000 profit iu a year. That is the evidence of business men who have made big reputations in Tasmania as honorable commercial men; but, if something is not done, these gentlemen will probably lose their callings, and will have to join the unemployed. Trusts, rings, and combines are so powerful financially that they can crush out the small man, and, if allowed to go on, it is a matter of only a few years when we shall have a few powerful financial slave-masters and millions of industrial slaves. That is the condition of affairs reached in Western America. In the small towns in that part of the world, in past years, we could find the small man running a blacksmith’s shop, and hiring twenty or thirty men, and, on the Sabbath, we could see the men and the master singing in the choir. The village blacksmiths of those days are now replaced by great factories, and all the men are numbered like convicts. It is coming to that iu Australia. We have only one or two warehouses in Tasmania now with their head-quarters in that State, but before Federation there were many of them, and they had their representatives throughout the State. Tasmania had a prosperous business then; now it is only a suburb of Victoria, and the producers of the State are being exploited ; they are not getting a fair deal. Here is some information gained by the Royal Commission on the Fruit Industry -
There is an arrangement between the various shipping companies trading in Australian waters with respect to these freights. The freight on Tasmanian fruit between Sydney and Brisbane is 17s. 6d. per ton, whilst the freight on fruit carried from Brisbane to Sydney, the same distance, is 9s. 9d. per ton.
Will any one admit that this is justice to the fruit-growers of Tasmania, or justice to the consumers in New. South Wales?
– I am afraid you are wrong in regard to the Queensland figures.
– I am taking the figures from the report of the Royal Commission. If the Royal Commission made a mistake, they will have to stand by it. The fruit-growers of Tasmania are called upon to pay double the freight the fruit-growers of Queensland pay. Here is another instance from the report of the Royal Commission: -
On 23,737 cases of Tasmanian fruit sent by one of the A.U.S.N. steamers in a season from Sydney to Brisbane the freight was £1,760, whilst on 46,594 cases of fruit sent from Brisbane to Sydney the freight charged was only £1,241. So that Tasmanian growers were called upon to pay £500 more in freight than was charged toQueensland growers for the carriage of exactly double the quantity of fruit.
That means that the people of Queensland are charged almost a third less than we have to pay. I have no ill-feeling in the matter ; I am merely putting this forward by way of comparison, and I hope the honorable member for Moreton will not think I am unfair.
– We think we are paying too much in Queensland.
– How can the fruit-growers of Tasmania prosper in these circumstances ? No people work harder. There areno better citizens in the world, yet they find themselves handicapped in the markets because they are at the mercy of one corporation, the corporation that governs everything in Tasmania.
– And the Government propose to give it another £2,000 a year in subsidy, making £15,000 in all.
– The bargain would have been all right if the Government had made these people reduce the freights.
– Who paid them the other £13,000 ?
– I admit the Labour Government made a mistake; but in those days we had not time to think. According to the agreement, we have to wait two years for the second
Loongana ; but the new boat will merely possess the same speed as the present one .
– By that time Launceston will be a thing of the past.
– I hope no port of Tasmania will go down; but by the law of nature and God, Burnie is the geographical centre of Tasmania. At question 11381 of the evidence taken by the Fruit Commission, Mr. W. McDonald, the general manager of the Australian’ Company, gave this evidence -
We have elicited in evidence that there is an arrangement between the various shipping companiesrelative to freight charges. Is that so? - Yes, we have an arrangement to run at fixed rates of freights and fares. That arrangement was arrived at after a very grave consultation in conference; the rates were fixed at that conference.
So there is a thorough understanding. There are one or two small lines of steamers, but there is little difference in the freight; and I am told that the big gentlemen have the inside of the little fellows - that they have everything that is worth having. The little fellows cannot find the capital. It is no fault of theirs. If we had our Commonwealth Bank in full operation working conjointly with the States, we could do away with all this, because we could help these small producers and small business men. There is no need to plead for the big men ; they can look after themselves. Wealth needs no protection; she protects herself. I shall give one or two more instances. Mr. W H. Luffy, a well known fruit importer of Queensland, gave this evidence to the Fruit Commission -
There was an arrangement between the companies not to trade direct? - That is right. To my mind it would be one of the best paying routes in Australia - a line of steamers direct from Hobart to Sydney, to touch at Newcastle and Brisbane. If the steamers were up to date they would lake a lot of the intermediate trade and passengers between Sydney and Brisbane.
Here is further evidence. The Union Steam-ship Company, which is only about forty years old, gave their shareholders, about two years ago, 200,000 shares, besides dividends. They are now reconstructing again, and their profits have been so great that they have had again to water their capital considerably. Last year, Huddart Parker and Company wanted £250,000 to increase their capital, and about £2,500,000 was subscribed. There are Governments in Australia who cannot to-day get even a little money at reasonable rates of interest to carry on their activities and enterprises. But here is a steam-ship company which, being well managed, makes such a great profit that it has no difficulty in raising capital.
– Is the firm of Huddart Parker and Company trading between Melbourne and Tasmania?
– It is the whole combination. When only £250,000 is asked for, and £2,500,000 is subscribed, it shows the faith which people have in the profits of a wellmanaged steam-ship company. In fact, I applied for shares, but did not get any, as I was too late with my application.
– What are they paying on the shares now?
– I think that the company are paying well.
– I do not think they are.
– They may not be paying too much at present, because they are getting the concern going. It is like the Commonwealth Bank. The initiatory expense of the bank makes it look as if there was a loss, but there has been no loss. It is only a charged deficit, created by the expense of starting the institution. Any man who has had banking experience knows that.I heard a brother talk about a direct loss.
– It will be made up in the future?
– Yes. I went into the matter the other day. I was a little worried, because I had a bit in the bank, and I found that it is like the Rock of Ages. It is a very profitable business that is carried on by the Shipping Combine. Yet my Christian friend the PostinasterGeneral signs a contract to give that gigantic corporation the right for seven years to exploit the Tasmanian producers.
– Shame !
– I do not say that it is a shame; it is sorrowful. According to statistics for 1909, the value of the trade between Tasmania and the mainland was £5,391,636 per annum. The import trade was valued at £2,387,854, and the export trade at £3,003,782. The trade between Tasmania and the mainland must now be considerably over £6,000,000. A. State with a trading business of £6,000,000 is a State of some importance ; even in great America it would be considered a State of some magnitude. Yet Tasmania is to-day at the mercy of a private corporation. If the Inter-State Commission had the power to regulate freights and fares, and would do it, I should not feel so strongly as I do. The Fisher Government agreed to put on fast boats. Why should a passenger have to spend from eighteen to twenty-four hours in getting from Tasmania to Melbourne? Why should a person have to go through that terrible agony ? A man would get his troubles over in a few hours if there were fast boats. Why are we lagging behind? How is it that the Government are behind in everything? If our Government said to the steam-ship companies, “ We want fast boats,” the companies would have to put such boats in the running. But none of us likes to interfere, because every advance that the human race makes is made over the preserves of some man’s special privilege.
– What speed do you think would be a fair thing?
– According to the Shipping World Year-Book, in England there is a little boat of 2,651 tons with a very high speed. It is said that John Bull is slow, but John is the daddy of them all. Out here we talk about teaching Old John how to suck eggs. Yet he has little boats which are travelling at the rate of 29 miles an hour, or 25.34 knots.
– They must be destroyers.
– Nothing of the kind.
– You would not like to be on board.
– I would like to be on a boat if she were running at the rate of 50 miles an hour.
– I once travelled in a boat at 22 miles an hour, and it took me a week to get over the trip.
– What book are you quoting from?
– The Shipping World Year-Book for 1913.
– The Launceston Examiner says that you do not know anything of it.
– Yes; in fact, ever since I came to Australia they have been saying I do not know anything about anything I do know something about, and the joy is that I keep marching on like a Christian soldier. According to the Shipping World Year-Book, a boat of 1,129 tons, which was built in 1903, is running at the rate of 25 miles an hour. Old John has got her, too,. Another little boat of 1,216 tons is running at the rate of 26 miles an hour. Surely none of my honorable friends will deny that that boat is small enough to get up the Tamar River! The Mauretania, a turbine steamer of 31,937 tons, is running at the rate of 32 miles an hour all the way from England to New York.
– She would not do for Tasmania, would she ?
– No, she would carry nearly all our people away; we do not want a boat of that size. In this book I read of a boat of 2,641 tons running at the rate of 28 miles an hour, and a boat of 1,474 tons’ running at the rate of 29 miles an hour. According to the evidence in the Shipping World Year-Book, my honorable friends opposite are putting on antiquated boats. Because the Loongana could steam 22 miles an hour twelve years ago, is it to be concluded that there has been no improvement in the interval; no advancement in the science of navigation ?
– What else but antiquated boats could you expect from the present Government?
– I am pleading with the Government to see if it is not possible, even at the last moment, to provide for the employment of faster boats. It is declared in Holy Writ that while the light holds out in thelamp the vilest sinner may return.
– The Loongana grew old while you were in power.
– I hope that my honorable friend will allow me to finish, because I can only continue for a little while. The trading business of Tasmania is valued at £6,000,000 per annum. Let us see what profit the Loongana made last year. The lowest figures show a passenger list of 310 per week, and the highest for the Christmas week 1,900, for the three trips each way. In the case of the lowest list, the fares for the 310 passengers - 223 first, and 87 second saloon - amounted to £725 ; the fares for the highest list amounted to £3,824. I find that the average for the passenger list for the whole year is 500 per week - 300 first saloon, and 200 second saloon. The average receipts from passengers’ fares alone amount to £1,370 per week, or £5,480 per month. That is the magnificent proposition which the present Government have turned down. Let me now give the totals. The Loongana earns £5,480 per month from passenger fares alone. What are the expenses? These are estimated ft £3,000 per mouth. After making every possible arrangement for depreciation, insurance, renewal, and everything else, the Loongana easily clears from £12,000 to £15,000 a year.
– She gets enough in subsidy to pay for all the coal she consumes.
– Yes. My contention is that we could put three boats in the running at a cost, not of £150,000 each, as we have been told, but of £100,000 each, or £300,000 in all.
– The companies say that they would cost £150,000 each.
– I know better. I should like to take a contract to build them for that. Such statements remind me of what I was told from time to time when, as Minister of Home Affairs, I was buying land for the Commonwealth. I always bought land for less than the price at which it was said it could be obtained. If you depend on officials alone, and sign everything, like a rubber stamp, well and good. If the Commonwealth Bank were in full swing - if it was working in unison with the States, and able to finance the nation - we could obtain the necessary money at par for 3½ per cent. Private men can borrow at 4 per cent.
– Why, the honorable member lent me money at 4 per cent.
– I am paying 4½ per cent. myself.
-I would not deny any statement made by my honorable friend. We could get this money at 3½ per cent., which would mean an interest bill of £10,500 a year, so that we should still have left £4,500 a year to provide for sinking fund and other matters. In this way we could provide three steamers capable of travelling at the rate of 25 miles or 30 miles an hour, and we should be able to carry the produce of the people of Tasmania at such a low rate that producers at the end of the year would have a profit instead of a loss, as so many of them have now.
– Why does not the honorable member take up the contract himself? I will give it tohim if he is game.
– I would have taken it if the honorable gentleman had talked to me a little earlier. I have not time now to get ready. With such a service we could put the people of Tasmania on an equal footing with those of the mainland in the matter of transport facilities. Sydney, which is starving for Tasmania’s luscious fruits, would be able to obtain them for far less than at present. Fruit is being sold by Sydney shopkeepers at double its worth. The fault rests, not with the shopkeepers, but with the landlord at the one end, and the interest and freight charges at the other. We could conduct such a service as this in the interests of the Commonwealth, not for the benefit of the few, but to the advantage of all. It is at this point that we differ from honorable members opposite. The Labour party sets the public weal above every private interest, and the prominence of national principles above the triumph of entrenched privilege. We live only to do our duty to the people. I sympathise with honorable members opposite, who came into power under adverse circumstances, and have to please too many, but they are doing a great wrong to Tasmania. In every country malignant financial interests fatten on political corruption. These shipping companies are powerful corporations, and they are working hand in glove against us. The Labour party is fighting against the sinister and sordid interests of the world, the breath of whose criminal nostrils is special privilege. The Government are giving these corporations special privileges to plunder 200,000 people in Tasmania. They are making the many stragglers in the State of Tasmania perspire. The “ boodleiers “ extract the last dollar out of the pockets of our producers. Many a farmer thinks that he will be able, out of the returns from his crop, to buy a new dress for his daughter, a pair of boots for his boy, or a nice suit of clothes for Billy to wear when he goes to the Cup; but the last dollar is extracted from him at the wharfs, and from time to time he receives telegrams stating that his fruit has been sold “ under commission.” All the looked-for profits of the farmer thus disappear and Billy, Mary, and Mum are unable to see the Cup.
– I desire to support this motion. About a year ago I invited the whole of the representatives of Tasmania in this Parliament to wait upon the then Postmaster-General, with a view to urging that a better mail service, as well as a better service for passengers and the carriage of produce, should be provided between Tasmania and the mainland. I contend that it is the duty of this Parliament to see that the people of the island State, which is part of this great Commonwealth, shall enjoy facilities equal to those available to people on the mainland to travel from State to State. Those who desire to travel, say, from Melbourne to Sydney, are provided by the State Governments with the quickest means of transit, and we contend that it is the duty of this Parliament to see that Tasmania is brought into line with the rest of the States in the matter of facilities for travelling to and from the mainland. It is for this Parliament to see that the 200,000 residents of Tasmania shall have conferred upon them a public convenience of this kind, and that that public convenience shall be owned by the people themselves. At the deputation to which I have already referred certain honorable members opposite condemned the very shipping combine which they are now supporting.
– Who were they?
– The honorable member for Franklin and Senator Clemons, who is a member of the present Government. Senator Clemons described the Union Steam-ship Company and Huddart, Parker and Company as a combine that was operating detrimentally to the interests of the people of Tasmania.
– He was about right.
– Certainly, he was; yet these honorable members are now supporting a Government which would feed this octopus more and more. The Government which they are supporting propose to give these companies a contract extending over a number of years, during which the people of Tasmania will be in the grip of the combine. What hope can we have of another shipping company trying to fight a combine that is well subsidized by the Commonwealth Parliament, and is given a long contract for the carriage of mails? It is well known that freights and fares in Australia to-day are higher than they have ever been before; but under the terms of this contract the people of Tasmania will be unable to obtain any redress, since the Government have merely stipulated that as long as the present fares and freights are not increased the company shall not be interfered with. What chance is there of any reduction of fares or freights under such an agreement? Absolutely none. On the other hand, under the terms of the contract, the fares and freights may be increased, provided that the Postmaster-General is agreeable. If the Postmaster-General should at any time agree to such an increase, what provision is there for a reduction later on ? As the time allotted to the consideration of notices of motion has almost expired, I ask leave to continue my remarks at a later date.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.
.- I move -
That, in order to cheapen the cost of country telephone lines, tenders should be invited for their construction in all districts where a request forsame is made, and that the district concerned should be given the advantage of any saving upon the departmental estimate thus secured.
I think that every honorablemember in this House stands on common ground in regard to this matter. We all desire to further the interests of our constituents by securing for them as much as we can in the matter of telephone extensions, and from that point of view this motion is certainly a very important one. It is also important from the stand-point of the large amount of money involved. Under the heading of “new works,” there was expended last year, on the construction and extension of telephone lines, instruments, and materials, no less than ?581,000. It would not be unreasonable to conjecture that at least one-half of that amount was expended in country districts, and to that we must add the very considerable sum which the people themselves have been called upon to contribute. We thus have a bird’s-eye view of the extent to which the people are being served by the telephone. When a new line is requisitioned, the Department sends out an inspector, who, in due course, submits a report setting forth the estimated cost of construction, and the probable revenue, and upon those estimates the determination is based. In nearly every case, in my constituency, at all events, the inspector’s estimates have been such as to show that the line cannot be expected to pay within a certain period, and the people interested in it are consequently asked to pay a considerable sum towards its construction. I have here a typical case of a proposed line from Newham toWoodend. The departmental estimate of cost was ?331, the estimated re venue deficiency ?13 10s., and the public concerned were asked to contribute in cash, material, or labour, the sum of ?67, or, roughly speaking, one-fifth of the total cost of the proposed line. In many cases, people are asked to contribute a good deal more than this. In one case also, in my own constituency, the people concerned were asked to pay 50 per cent. of the total cost of the proposed line. The question of cost is of the greatest importance in this connexion, and I suggest that, in order to reduce the cost of country telephone lines, tenders should be called for their construction. I have evidence to submit which goes to show that, under the existing departmental methods, the costof construction is higher than it need be. If I can show that, I should be able to appeal confidently to honorable members to induce the Government to adopt another method which is calculated to lead to a very much reduced cost. I can refer honorable members to a short line which was desired between Strathbogie and Strathbogie North. The departmental estimate of cost was ?244, the estimated revenue deficiency ?14 8s., and the Department asked the people to comply with the ordinary conditions, and contribute the sum of ?144. In that case, more than half the total cost was claimed from the people concerned.
– What is the length of the line ?
Mr. PALMER . About 7 miles. In connexion with this proposed line, I had a conversation with a resident of the district, who is no. novice in matters of this kind, because he was engaged at one time in carrying out contracts under the Victorian State Government for the construction of telegraph lines. He told me that he was prepared to construct the proposed telephone line from Strathbogie to Strathbogie North with the same kind of poles, and exactly on the same lines as the extension from the town of Euroa to the township of Strathbogie, and would do the work for less than half of the Government estimate of cost.
– Who is this gentleman?
Mr. PALMER. I refer to Mr. D. Crosbie. I bring these matters before the House in order that honorable members may decide to stiffen the back of the Minister, and see whether we cannot get these works carried out in the cheapest way. I visited the Department in connexion with the line referred to. I felt I had a good case, and was justified in endeavouring to have this line constructed with the least possible cost to my constituents. I put the case verbally before the Minister as clearly as I could, and in due time I received the following reply, dated 27th March of the present year -
With reference to your inquiry on the 4th inst., on behalf of Mr. D. Crosbie, Strathbogie North, as to whether the Department would approve of tenders being invited for the construction of the proposed telephone line between that place and Strathbogie, I beg to inform you that approval cannot be given for tenders to be so invited, as it is not the practice of the Department to have telegraph and telephone lines erected by contract.
I thought, in my innocence, that it was the province of this Parliament to determine matters of policy, and I am disposed to think that when honorable members are made aware of the fact that the Department has adopted a method which, in the case to which I refer, would prevent a saving to the people of £120 on the construction of a small line, they will be behind me, and not behind the Department. I wish to impress upon honorable members that this is not by any means a singular case, but I doubt whether any other member of the House has received such a letter as that which I have just read. It certainly contains a most important statement. It should be an eyeopener to the public at large to know that, in this huge Department, which is in a position to exercise most beneficial effects in many of our outlying centres, the methods adopted stand in the way of anything being done which will reduce the cost of the construction of these tele.phone lines. I have another case to submit, which I take from the Argus, and so I cannot vouch for its correctness. 1 quote the following telegram from Buninyong, which appeared in the issue of 7th June, 1913 -
The erection of a telephone line connecting Mount Mercer, Grenville, Durham Lead, and Hardie’s Hill with Buninyong, is now almost completed, and it is expected the line will be open for business before the end of this month. The residents of the districts named have subscribed the money, and, under supervision, built the line by contract work at a cost of about £130. The line is splendidly built, and it reflects credit on the contractors, especially as the Postal Department’s estimate for the same work was over £480. By doing the work without the aid of the Government the residents have saved about £350.
It will be admitted that that is a very important statement, and it should lead honorable members to decide whether they can permit a public Department tobe run in such a way and to make estimates of that kind. The big saving which was possible when the people took the matter into their own hands seems tome to reflect to some extent upon the motion submitted this afternoon by thehonorable member for Darwin for the establishment of a State-owned line of steamers. I submit a further case, thefacts in connexion with which I can vouch for, as it is in my own constituency. I quote the following letter to myself, dated 25th August of the present year -
Referring to your letter of the nth instant handed to me by Councillor Speirs for reply. The Department was asked to construct a linefrom Heathcote to Toolleen, but declined doing so, as the cost would be too great. Their estimate for a tree and fence line, in which I take it they intended to use few if any poles, was £320 2s. od. We then entered into an agreement with the Department to erect the line by private subscription, and successfully built the line - the exact cost being ,£189 19s. Sd. The line is one 15 miles in length, and in its construction we used 331 poles, as follows : - 819. 15-feet. 79 18-feet, and 33 25-feet. The work was all done by contract.
I am quite well aware that the fact that certain districts have been able to secure telephone lines at so very much less than the Government estimate of cost may detract from the value of my motion, but I point out that the regulations under which this is managed are very complex. The matter is dealt with under regulation No. 18 of the Public Telephone Regulations. Honorable members are aware that in many country districts it is very difficult to find persons who will take the lead in matters which require some personal responsibility and involve the payment of money. Where such men can be found, these things are possible of accomplishment, but in districts that are not so fortunately circumstanced, and where there is no real leader among the people, it is found exceedingly difficult to grapple with the Department, and. to know exactly how the residents stand. The result in most cases is that the line asked for is not built. The people accept the departmental estimate ; they find that it involves more than they are prepared to pay, and they do not get thenline. As so much of our prosperity depends on the work of our country people, it should be our policy to give them every facility we can. I have therefore suggested in my motion that tenders should be called for the work in every district where the people desire that that should be done. They could understand a plain specification, and it would become a matter of business for some person to put in a tender. It would be worth a man’s while to do so if he saw an opportunity of making a few pounds out of the work.
– The honorable member should ask that all the work should be done by contract.
– I am prepared to go to the length of asking that all this work should be done by contract if that is the desire of honorable members. If that course were followed, the result would he to bring into existence a number of contractors with the necessary plant and equipment. They could follow up the work, and be prepared to put in prices lower than those for which such work can be done in a haphazard and spasmodic way by an occasional contractor. I want to show that regulation No. 18, to which I have referred, is somewhat complex. Clause 2 reads -
The persons constructing and maintaining the line shall nominate and submit to the PostmasterGeneral the names of one or two persons as the trustees for the line, to represent them, and to receive on their account the amounts payable by the Postmaster-General, as hereinafter provided, for the use of the line for public purposes.
That involves personal responsibility, and I say again that it is not easy to get individuals to accept a personal responsibility for the benefit of all and sundry. That is why I object to the present system. Clause 6 reads -
The Postmaster-General may at any lime take possession of the line, paying to the owners thereof such compensation as is agreed upon.
That is a provision which must impress thepersons interested in any particular line with the idea that they cannot know where they are.
– If a line results in a loss, the people concerned are required to keep it, but if it results in a profit, the Postmaster- General takes it over.
– Yes. Only last week a representative of New South Wales stated in this chamber that the telephonic extensions in that State were eighteen months in arrears. That has become almost a chronic condition in Victoria and in other States. It indicates that the Department is becoming water-logged. Whilst it can easily control a large number of contractors, difficulty is experienced in controlling an army of men engaged in carrying out telephonic construction under the day-labour system. A good deal of trouble is encountered in transferring bands of men from one district where a line has been erected to another district where a line has to be constructed. The whole thing bristles with difficulty, and I assert, without fear of contradiction, that if the telephonic construction work required throughout the Commonwealth were undertaken by private contractors, the public would get that work done for considerably less than it costs now, that it would be completed at a very much earlier period, that the workmanship would be up to the Government standard, and that an advantage would result all round. The Department would be relieved of the responsibility of looking after individual men, and the public would benefit by getting telephonic communication at a very much less cost. I could point to a number of instances which have come under my notice in which savings have been effected by the people doing this class of work themselves. I am pleased to know that the PostmasterGeneral is entirely in favour of the contract system-
– Then why does he not carry it out?
– I do not know. But I know that one of the most difficult things to overcome in any Department is the red-tapism which pervades it, and which was not broken down by the honorable member for Darwin, or by any other member of the late Administration. The question of the day-labour as opposed to the contract system is one of policy, and I would like this House to affirm what the policy of the Postal Department should be. I do not intend to occupy the time of honorable members any further. The proposition is a self-evident one, and the facts which I have adduced can be easily verified.
– I have very much pleasure in seconding the motion, and wish to bring under the notice of the Minister representing the Postmaster-General a few matters, with a view to showing him how difficult it is to get anything in the nature of telephonic construction work carried out in the country districts. For instance, there is a line proposed with which I am very conversant - as was also my predecessor - running from Colac to the Carlyle River through forest country. The poles can be obtained right alongside the route to be traversed. Thus there would be no carting to be done, though there might be a little scrub which would require to be cleared. A letter which I hold in my hand from the Deputy PostmasterGeneral, dated December, 1911, shows that the Department is fully informed as to the reasons why this line is required. Yet it is impossible to get anything from it beyond a bald assurance that inquiry will be made. As a matter of fact, I do not get even an acknowledgement to numerous letters which I write to the Department. This projected line, which would traverse a distance of about 20 miles, according to the departmental estimate, would cost £318 13s. 9d. In the case of another line which the residents were permitted to erect for a distance of 7 miles, the cost was £140. The poles of that line carry nine wires, and on the same basis the line from Colac to Carlyle River, which would carry a single wire, could be constructed for less than £200. The Department, however, will not permit of that single wire line being erected under contract. They will not allow the residents interested to erect it themselves. A considerable number of electors reside in that portion of my constituency. They are separated by some distance from a railway station, and are engaged in carrying on the cheese industry. In reply to their representations, the Department has estimated that the revenue from the line would be insufficient to make it a paying proposition within eight years. It affirms that, before the line can be erected, these persons must contribute a sum of £200. Surely they should be given an opportunity to construct the line under contract. The undertaking, I believe, could be carried out for about £150, and there would be no loss of revenue whatever. On the contrary, the revenue would increase at an enormous rate. I wish now to refer to a regulation which provides that if people wish to put a wire along departmental poles, they must pay a rental of 10s. per mile per annum for the privilege. I need scarcely point out that, in the case of a man living in a township where there is a telephone exchange, the Department erects the poles and wires for hint.
– He has to pay 10s. per mile per annum if he is more than 2 miles distant from an exchange.
– But the Department will construct the line for him for a distance of 2 miles, whereas it extracts from the resident in the country a rental of 10s. per mile per annum. Only the other day certain individuals interviewed the Postmaster-General, and offered to erect thepoles required by the Department for a distance of about 30 miles. They then inquired what would be their position if they wanted to attach wires to those poles. Notwithstanding that they had practically carried out the work of erecting the line, they were told that they would have to pay a rental of 10s. per mile per annum for the right to use their own poles. I advised them to put up their own poles, and to have nothing to do with the Department at all. That is the condition of affairs which obtains in the country to-day. The Department will take over only lines which are paying. I hope that we shall effect some alteration in these regulations. If it is impossible for the Postmaster-General to move in this matter, if he is too tightly bound by red-tape, we had better have a little “ burst up,” and endeavour to break that red-tape.
.- The construction of telephone lines in the country is a very important matter, and I am glad the honorable member for Echuca has brought it forward, so that we may discuss it fully. I agree with the honorable member for Corangamite that it is almost impossible to get construction work carried out in the country districts at the present time. Further, many lines which have been erected are in such a condition owing to the anxiety of the settlers in years gone-by to obtain telephonic communication, that the Department will not take them over. Honorable members who represent city constituencies donot appear to realize that country residents are suffering a grave injustice at the hands of the Postal Department. There is no doubt that telephonic facilities are more necessary in rural areas than they are in the cities. In my opinion, the telephonic service should be such as to permit of the rapid despatch of the people’s business. Nowadays, things move rapidly in business circles, and, therefore, it is absolutely necessary that a more lenient system in the matter of telephonic construction shall be made applicable to country residents. In the Gipspland district there are many places which are separated from small centres by distances of thirty and forty miles. Every one of these places is valuable from a national point of view, and their development should be one of the main objectives of this or any other Government. Now, the first step towards the development of any district should be the establishment of postal and telephonic communication. Yet the responsibility for building up these services is thrown on the pioneers who are blazing the track of civilization for future generations, and who, in many cases, are expected to foot the bill for the whole cost of construction. If local residents were permitted to carry out the work of erecting telephones, under the direction of the departmental officers, or if tenders were called for locally, the cost of telephone extensions would be half what it is now, and the new services would be profitable from the beginning, so that there would be no penalization of the users of them. The Government should so alter the regulations as to allow for the calling of tenders both in the large centres of population and in the districts in which work is to be carried out. That would enable the residents of districts requiring telephone communication to undertake contracts for the erection of the wires, and they would probably do the work for 50 per cent. less than it costs by the present departmental methods, and would benefit by the saving effected. The other day I introduced to the Deputy Postmaster-General here a deputation urging the construction of 15 miles of telephone, from a place out from Omeo, known as The Swamp, to the Anglers’ Rest, a line of communication that is needed for more than one reason. Omeo is not only the business centre of this part of the country, it is also the place to which settlers must go for medical and surgical attention. When an accident happens, or illness comes, patients’’ have often to be taken 20 miles to get attention. The deputation to which I refer was told that the estimated cost of the line for which they asked was something like £260. Honorable members must know that the line is not to be carried on poles, but is to be suspended from tree to tree, following the road, only fifteen poles being used in its construction. The estimate, therefore, appeared to me to be extremely high, and I asked what would be the probable cost of the material required. This, I was informed, was put down by the departmental officers at £40. The deputation said that they would construct the line if the Department would supply the material. We were informed that all the Department wanted was 10 per cent. on the cost of construction, and that if they got that, the line would be considered a paying one. The local residents could carry outthe work of erecting the line for £60.
– It is the same story everywhere.
– The Government should re-model the regulations governing telephone construction. I am pleased to notice that the last Government Gazette contains quite a number of applications for tenders for telephone construction, though they are for long trunk lines; but I would like the local residents to be given an opportunity to erect branch country lines. I have known valuable lives to be lost for want of telephone communication. In many cases men who meet with accidents have to be immediately hurried in the direction of the nearest medical adviser, some one riding ahead on horseback to tell the doctor what has happened, and to bring him to meet the sufferer. I know of a case in which a little child who was seriously scalded was taken by her parents to Orbost, a horseman being sent ahead to bring the doctor out to meet her, but the child succumbed before it could get any treatment. Had there been a telephone the sufferer could have been relieved at once, and probably her life would have been saved. As the welfare of the city population depends on the efforts of those in the country, I ask the representatives of city and suburban constituencies to help us in this matter. We want their whole-hearted co-operation.
– One would think that this was the first time that the subject had been mentioned here.
– I have for a good many years followed the proceedings of this House, but I do not remember the moving of any motion similar to that now under discussion. This is not a party matter. Telephone facilities are urgently needed for the development of the country, and members of the Opposition who desire the welfare of the country should assist us. We have heard a lot about the need for non-contentious proposals. This is surely such a proposal, and both parties might well unite for the benefit of the whole community, and especially of the pioneers who are doing- so much for the advancement of the country.
– I congratulate the honorable member for Echuca on having moved the motion. We know that, in the past, it has been very difficult to obtain the material necessary for telephone extensions. In my opinion, past Governments have done very well with the machinery that they had at hand, and I trust that this Government will also do all that it can to extend telephone communication into the country, By doing so, it will greatly assist settlement, inducing persons to live in the country who now remain in the towns. The honorable member for Gippsland is right in saying that telephones are needed in the country to get people to live there. The extension of telephone communication, and the increasing use of motor-cars, will revolutionize country conditions. The honorable member for Barrier, when PostmasterGeneral, did everything he could for the convenience of country districts. We should indeed be proud of what has been done. If Australia makes as much progress in the next six years as she has <lone in the past six years, she will do remarkably well. In my district, in no case lias a guarantee had to be called up, all the lines that have been made ‘ having proved profitable. There is, -of course, a good deal of red-tape in departmental methods, but you will find that all over the world, and I think that you can hardly get rid of it. When application is made for a telephone line, the first thing that the Department does is to ask, “What will it pay?” I agree with the honorable member for . Echuca that it would be a good tiling to call for tenders locally for the construction of lines, because local people can always get material more cheaply, and do work more cheaply, than can the Department. But the work done should be always done under official supervision, to secure something like uniformity.’ I am sure the Postmaster- General keenly desires the development of Australia, and will put no obstacle in the way of telephone extensions. The other day, when I brought a deputation before him, he said, ‘ If you think that the departmental estimate is too high, submit an estimate of your own in proper terms. Do not say that the work can be done for so-and-so, but write to me, setting down exactly what you would construct it for. If you do that, you may depend that you will get all the help I can give you. If you offer to do the work, I promise to give you the best material and supervision.” There could not be a fairer promise than that. I feel confident that the PostmasterGeneral -will do a great deal for the development of Australia by extending telephone lines, and if he does as well as his predecessors, he will do very well indeed. In Australia we have great difficulty in getting the material that we need. For years past we have not been able to get letter-boxes made fast enough. Our country is progressing so fast that it is almost impossible to. keep pace with its requirements, especially in the matter of telegraphs and telephones. Estimates are made to-day which, six months later, are found to be quite insufficient. The Postmaster-General has a tough job ahead of him, and I hope it will always be a tough job, because it is in the interests of Australia that this great progress should occur. It was pleasing to hear the honorable member for Maranoa speaking of what has been done in regard to telephones in his electorate. I recollect when one could go miles and miles in that country without the slightest means of communication. The honorable member lias been energetic, but he will never get all he requires, because his district will still be progressing, and, in addition to the hundreds of miles already connected, hundreds and hundreds of miles of country will need to be linked up. The honorable member has pointed out how many lives have been saved by the extension of telephones. I know that in my district, since we have had telephones extended to outlying districts, there has been a great change in regard to people going out to live in the country; and I venture to say there is not one man in this House who will vote against extending telephonic communication still wider and wider all over Australia. I know that every Postmaster-General from whom I have sought information in connexion with this matter has done his level best with the material and money available, and the Ministers controlling the Postal Department deserve our very best thanks in this regard.
.- There is no doubt that there is congestion of work in regard to telephone extensions.
We cannot altogether blame the Department for it; the officers have done remarkably well in the circumstances; but the trouble is that it is impossible to lay down a hard-and-fast rule to apply all over Australia. In the first place, the material must be found by the Government for these telephone services; but I think the Department could well make a concession on the rate, which would make the difference between a paying concern and one which they will not undertake to build. The charge is now 10 per cent. on the cost of construction ; but it is a monstrous charge. Some time ago I moved in the House to try to reduce this rate.
– We have not got much out of any motion that has been moved so far.
– I do not intend to reflect on the Government.
– They seem to treat this matter with silent contempt.
– The Government might facilitate the construction of work they have already agreed to undertake. There is a projected line in my district, which was agreed to over two years ago, but it has not yet been commenced.
– Only two years! You are very lucky.
– The Department told me that they had nob the material.
– Whose fault is that?
– The fault of the Government, absolutely. Take the matter of letter-boxes. They order about a handful every year. They thought they were breaking their necks when they got 400 for South Australia. Yet these letterboxes pay the moment they are attached. The Department receive any amount of applications for them, but they have no stock of letter-boxes on hand. The same thing applies to wire for telephones. They wait until the last moment before they order the material, but I maintain that large quantites of letter-boxes, telephone wire, and other telephone equipment, should be kept in store. There is a great deal to be said in favour of allowing the people in districts to do their own particular work, and I would not advocate one particular standard of telephone. Where trunk lines are necessary, a substantial line quite up to date must be erected, but there are scores of places where a line that would not now be approved by the Department would serve ail the purposes required. The Department have a stereotyped specification for wire they require, but that standard is only needed for trunk lines. I am anxious to know the result of a telephone service recently constructed in my district. While the Department were considering the matter of whether it would be a paying concern or not, the people took the matter into their own hands, and had the line pub up in about twenty-four hours, and I am told that this line has passed the inspection, and that the work was done well. No doubt, a little more latitude should be given to the Deputy PostmastersGeneral in the different States. If they were allowed to accept offers in the localities where work is required it could be done more expeditiously. At the same time I agree with the honorable member for Barker that the figures relating to the telephone mileage erected during the last ten years are amazing. There was absolutely nothing done previously. There are 400 miles of coast-line in my electorate, and ten years ago there were only two places along that coast from which telegrams could be despatched; there was no telephone service at all; but to-day there is hardly ten miles between the spots where one can get into telephonic communication with other districts. Anywhere where the number of the population is reasonable a service has been provided. There were no telephones in the middle north of South Australia ten years ago, but now there is hardly a place that is not connected. The difficulty is inthe outlying districts, when the Department require the stereotyped standard of 10 per cent. on the cost of construction, and applicants get the stereotyped replies that the work cannot be done, as the revenue will not meet the expenditure. Certainly there have been improvements in this regard from various Governments. The Commonwealth now accepts a larger proportion of the loss. I think it is 50 per cent.
– We ask the poorest people of the community to give a guarantee.
– I have no sympathy with that attitude. In some places to which the States have built railways, and where huge works have been carried out by the States, we have had great difficulty in getting telephone services. I have no doubt great improvement could be made in getting the work done more cheaply, and with greater expedition. The officers of the Department in South Australia have their hands’ absolutely full in carrying out works, and the alternative is to increase the permanent staff, or to allow a lot of this work to be done by people outside the Department, the Government supplying the necessary material. I trust the Government will do all they can to be up to date in connexion with the extension of telephones.
– I move, as an amendment -
That the words “ a request for same is made “ be struck out, with a view to insert in lieu thereof the word “ practicable.”
In the event of this amendment being agreed to, the motion will read -
That in order to cheapen the cost of country telephone lines tenders should be invited for their construction in all districts where practicable, and that the district concerned should be given the advantage of any saving upon the Departmental estimate thus secured.
We have to keep in view the fact that there is a glut of work, and the amendment, therefore, will make the motion a workable one. Another advantage is secured in reference to the tendering principle as against day labour, which is the chief cause for the delay of” this work in every part of the Commonwealth.
– They say in Queensland that they have not the gangs to do the work.
– That is one of the arguments why these works should be submitted to public tendering, because if it is known generally throughout the Commonwealth that this work will be submitted to public tendering, the advertisements will be seen by men who are specially qualified for the work, and who are looking for it. Possibly there will be sufficient work coming out in every Government Gazette to enable these men, who are practically experts - and, if not, they soon will be - to-do the work as effectively as the men in the Government Departments.
– There are men doing that work in South Australia now.
– Any number of them. The reason why I suggest we should use the words “ where practicable “ is that the Government might possibly desire to have trunk lines erected by their own special men, and there is no reason why that should not be done; but outside ordinary trunk lines, any handy man can right away undertake the work, and do it as effectively as those employed in the Government Department. The honorable member for Echuca, in submitting his motion, quoted three cases to show conclusively that an enormous saving would be effected to the Department by the adoption of the contract system. Doing work by contract will get over the difficulty of the block that has existed for a long time, because of the fact that the Department have not had the gangs of men to overcome it. Another cause for delay in connexion with many of these works has been pointed out by the honorable member for Grey. He spoke of the Department not having sufficient stock in hand, and he referred particularly to letter-boxes. A letter-box pays for its cost in three years, and is a most profitable thing; but, despite this, applications for letter-boxes are not fulfilled for twelve or eighteen months, and even two years. The reply to applications is that the Department have no stock, and that the boxes cannot be supplied until the end of the year.
– They cannot get them manufactured.
– They can get them manufactured. I have been told by the Department that they have submitted so many orders, and that they have had them supplied in accordance with the number ordered; but the trouble is that, while they have submitted a certain number of orders, in the meantime applications have been received for two or three times the number.
– The trouble is, they* do not anticipate what will be required in the future.
– In regard to letter-boxes, the Department admit that they have applications that it will take them twelve months to fulfil, but they admit that they have not submitted orders for the boxes that have been applied for. It is the same in regard to telephones. They say they have not the wire, and when a question is asked as to whether the wire is ordered, it is found that it has not been ordered. How can the Department get the wire if they do not order it? I very cordially support this motion, subject to my amendment, and I am quite sure that it will result, in a greater convenience to the people in the back country - to the pioneers of settlement. These great facilities, like railways, are instruments of production, and I know they will always get sympathetic support from every farming representative in this House.
.- I beg to second the amendment. I heartily indorse the ideas which are contained in the motion and the amendment, and I hope that the Government will make a strenuous effort to carry such a policy into effect. I believe that the PostmasterGeneral has taken a step in the right direction, because there have already been gazetted notices asking for tenders for the construction of new lines. What is wanted, as I understand the motion, is that, wherever it is practicable in the construction of the telephone lines which are so urgently sought in .so many parts of the Commonwealth, the local people, if they feel so disposed, shall have the right to tender not only for the supply of poles, but also for erecting the wires, and bringing about a thorough-going concern. Old members of the House know that this is a perennial question. The honorable member for Maranoa has raised it here for many years, and I have expressed my views on many occasions. In my opinion, the producers will have a strong inducement to go to what we might call the back-blocks, if they feel that they can get immediately a telephone connexion with the centres to which they go, in a case of illness or emergency, or even in the matter of ordering goods. When any producers are in that position, they feel that they are not altogether out of touch with the world. They realize that if they need to get assistance quickly, it can- be obtained, and altogether it is an inducement to the very men whom we wish to see multiply iu Australia. I do not propose to occupy any time in repeating what has been said. I merely wanted to say that, dealing with a matter of such general importance, the motion has my hearty indorsement.
– The “Tasmanians are strong because we have done a lot of suffering. Most of the Departments are honeycombed with dry-rot. Our city friends are not aware of the sufferings of the country people; possessing all the conveniences produced by the wealth of the country concentrated in the centres of civilization. Everything flows to the great cities, and consequently the residents get everything they want. But the people in the country are continually, called upon to put up for every little thing they need. When a telephone line is wanted in the back-blocks of Tasmania, instead of the Department sending out a man who will say, ‘ ‘ I will build this line and get the young men of the country to come along and chop down the trees,” it sends a gang along with a great caravansary, suggesting that it is the Boer army marching to the Eland or Modder River. One sees utensils for cooking; indeed, all the paraphernalia of a commissariat department, .and it takes days for the men to get settled down before they start to do anything.
– Here is an attack on Government employes now.
– Would you like to go and work without tucker?
– My honorable friends make great mistakes. Are we to have no progress in government lest we may attack somebody ? I do not look at the question from that stand-point -at all. A Government ought to be run with the same economic efficiency, peace, and progress as a man runs a private enterprise that makes “ boodle.”
– It is not possible.
– It is possible, as the honorable member will see if he goes down and looks at the Home Affairs Department.
– I looked there the other day, and it was shut up.
– I am sorry to say that it is not the case, even down there.
– The Department has left the neighbourhood of the church. It may be going down since it left there. It was all right when it was surrounded with the spiritual odour. I have always claimed that to suggest a reform is not to attack the individuals in a Department. Young men go into the- Department when they are only children. I think that twenty-two years of age is the last stage at which a youth can enter, and then a person can never enter the Department unless the Public Service Commissioner certifies that there is nobody there qualified. Up to that age, a young man has had no business training. He has not been through any great industrial activity, nor has he been associated with any great enterprise. He has not learned how to pay back wages on a Saturday afternoon or Friday night, when the banker has told him that he will not honour his cheque any further. He has not learned that science, and, therefore, he has not got to the final pivotal angle to get at the business. When a business man gets into the Department, the officers look at him a3 an interloper, and think, “ What does this fellow know “ ? A lad grows up, and becomes an official machine, and he does not know anything beyond the machine. That is not the fault of the man, but of the system. If a man attempts to make any reforms, it is said that he is turning the British Empire on its tail, and it may roll over. I sympathize from the bottom of my heart with the Postmaster-General, because I remember what I suffered. I was a martyr to officialdom. We want to make reforms, aud do not care whether they emanate from our friends on one side or the other. I am behind the man with reforms. We want reforms, not only in legislation, but in administration. We require to take the Departments out of the Slough of Despond, and put them on a high business plane. If we have not men here for that purpose, bring them in from outside, and give them a salary of £5,000 or £10,000 a year. I suggest to the Postmaster-General that he should send to Chicago or London. When Mr. Murdoch, the architect for the Home Affairs Department, went to London, I gave him a mission. He is a Scotchman; he was born in Scotland, and trained in England, and has spent thirty years in Australia. He is one of the ablest business men in the world, in my opinion. He is the only man I ever met in the Department who told me that he did not want his salary raised.
– Well, he is not Scotch.
– He is a Scotchman and a great man. I told Mr. Murdoch to go to Chicago, and watch the action at its post-office. Why? Chicago has the same size post-office to-day as it had when its population was halfamillion. There they have never enlarged the post-office, but they have improved the working machinery, until to-day it is the first post-office in the world. I would urge the Postmaster-General to have a talk with this architect.
– This is interesting, but it is not pertinent to the question before the House.
– I want to show, sir, that we cannot obtain any reforms unless we get the men who understand how to bring them about. What I am trying to do is not so much to fight about the things in the country that are required as to persuade the PostmasterGeneral to divide up the Department, systematize it, digest it, schedule it, and start it running on business lines. The post-office must be set in the right way. We tried to get a system. When we took over the post and telegraph services twelve years ago, I urged the first Government to bring out a Scotchman from Chicago, aud let him lay the foundations. We tried to build a great national post-office on the Queensland system. That system was good for 300,000 people, but nOt for 5,000,000 people. That has been the cause of our troubles, and to-day we find ourselves -stopped everywhere. My friend, Mr. Murdoch, can get at Chicago or London a man who will come out, and help to put the post-office on a business basis. I congratulate the Ministry upon bringing out Mr. W. B. Griffin in connexion with the design for the Federal Capital. I had not the courage. I confess that the red-tape overpowered me.
– Order !
– It is hard for a Minister to be anything but a rubber-stamp, because he is going up against things as they are, or as some one thinks they should be, and, consequently, he gets kicks from the front, and shots from behind. It is a terrible thing to bring about reform. If we could get a first-class man to go out into the back places, I confess that the work could be done for one-half of what it costs’ now. But it is essential to decentralize the business. . -The wheels - are clogged. The machine is in the quicksands, and the fault is not that of the officials, but of the machine itself. “Very serious complaints are made in Tasmania, because in country districts those who wish to use a public telephone after 8 p.m. have to pay double rates. The Australian producers are the chief sufferers under such a system. I urge the Post master- General to do something to improve the position in this respect. * In farming communities, where the homesteads are far apart, a guarantee has to be given by those who ask for a telephone line, but is any guarantee demanded in the case of a city line ?
– Not much.
– I want to know what the Postmaster-General is going to do to remedy this state of affairs. I hope that he will not reply by telling me what our Ministry did or did not do. We were in office for only three years, and could not do everything. Had we remained in power for three years more we should have turned things frontwards. I wish to see the producers in the backblocks placed, in the matter of telephones, on an equal footing with the people of our cities, who have their libraries, their theatres, their picture shows, their circuses, and ample telephone facilities. If the Minister will give country people telephone lines on the terms upon which they are available to the people of the cities, I shall be satisfied. Then, again, why should a man in a country village have to pay double rates for the use of a telephone after 8 o’clock? Was not the service established for the benefit of the people?
– That is a reform which the Postmaster-General should take in hand.
– I admit that the honorable gentleman has not yet had much of a chance to do things. Then, again, the departmental officers will always tell you that everything is all right. I was told that the system in my office had been followed in England for 200 years, and 1 thought that moss must have grown on its gums, and that it was time to have a change. I sympathize with the PostmasterGeneral, and I appeal to him to take these matters into his consideration in the interests of the producers, of not only Tasmania, but the whole Commonwealth. Tasmania has not as much money as some of the States have to spare for the .construction of roads, and a good telephone service in rural districts is therefore specially desirable in her case. What we want is results, whether the work be carried out by contract or by day labour. I found that in some cases the contract system was the best, while in others the works could be carried out more expeditiously by day labour. Where you have your day ‘ labour organized, you cannot beat that system, for there is too much delay in calling for reports, inviting tenders, and so forth, in connexion with the contract system. On one occasion the honorable member for Cowper brought under my notice some small repairs which were required to a Commonwealth building. The Department was going to send up an inspector all the way from Sydney to make a report on an £8 job. I wired up, “ Do her at once,” and we had her done the next day. It is these circumlocutory methods that annoy the citizens. In every little town there is a -carpenter, a plumber, and a man who can lay concrete, and when small repairs are needed to the local post-office, the local postmaster should get one of these men . to effect them, instead of the work being delayed for months, pending instructions from head-quarters and the making of reports. Postmasters have power, I think, to spend up to £10 on repairs. The trouble is that many of them do not read the regulations. There is, perhaps, a hole in the roof of a post-office, and by the time that the local officer has telegraphed to the head office, and has received instructions to read the regulations and have the repairs effected locally, rain has fallen, water has got into the building, and damage to the extent of £40 or £50 has been done. I hope that the PostmasterGeneral will take these matters into his earnest consideration and do something.
– I wish to indorse the remarks that have been made by representatives of country electorates in regard to this question, for I am convinced that the rural districts have not received the attention they deserve in the matter of telephone communication. The primary producers are £he true wealth producers of the country, and on this, a national, and not a party, question, I think both sides of the House are agreed. I shall support the motion with the amendment of the honorable member for Wakefield. I have had some experience, not only in Victoria, but in other States, of the delays incidental to the carrying out of telephone works, and of the ad’ditional cost incurred owing to the failure to have them carried out by local men. I brought under the attention of the Postmaster-General a case in which it was estimated by the Department that the erection of a telephone line - it was a tree and fence line, but some posts were to be used - would cost, I think, £580 18s. 3d., whereas a local man offered to erect the line, the wires and insulators to be provided by the Department, for £150. There was a difference of about 60 per cent, between the two prices. For the last two years residents of Stuart Mill, who have to travel fifteen or sixteen miles for a doctor, have been appealing in vain for telephonic communication. I agree with the honorable member for Darwin that the departmental officers are willing enough, but that it is the system itself which is at fault. As to his complaint regarding the double rates charged for the use of public telephones after 8 p.m., I would remind him that it was the Fisher Government who issued the regulation providing for the closing of country postoffices at 6 p.m.
– A continuous telephone service can be obtained if the revenue is sufficient to justify it.
– In the case of a small country town the stipulated revenue is not likely to be forthcoming, with the result that after 6 p.m. double rates are charged, and a man cannot get into a post-office at all a few minutes after 8 p.m. I wish to see telephonic reforms, and I think it would be in the interests ot Australia to place the Postal Department at once under the control of Commissioners. Under such a system, I think that our works could be carried out far more promptly than they are at present. As a matter of fact, it took me ‘nearly two years to induce the Department to take over a telephone line between Avoca and Natte Yallock, which the people had built for themselves, and which has paid from its inception. It was eventually taken over as a gift,- and local residents had to guarantee that the revenue would be sufficient to cover working expenses.
– And probably they were charged for the cost of inspection?
– No doubt, they were. I know how these additional costs are incurred. I brought under the notice of the Postmaster-General a case on the Marnoo line, where six or eight men were doing the work of one man. Sometimes they were at work, and sometimes they were not. The Minister, after making inquiries, I believe, had these men dismissed. Naturally those who had to provide the money to pay the men growled at the way at which the work was being carried out. I do not believe all that I hear, but the case to which I refer gives us an illustration of what ocurs under the “ manonthejob “ policy. The working farmer, who is establishing civilization in the backblocks, is being made to pay for the in- different work done by these individuals. I think it would be in the interests of the people to erect telephone lines in country districts without demanding any guarantee whatever. I hope that the motion, as amended, will receive the unanimous support of the House, and that it will be carried to-night.
.- This question has been so fully discussed that I should not have risen to speak but that I prefer the motion in its original form. . It seems to me that those who ask for a line should be best able to judge whether it ought to be constructed under tender conditions or otherwise. If the Department is to determine whether or not it is practicable to invite tenders for such works, people in country districts will still be in the hands of the departmental officers in this regard.
– If the Department cannot judge a matter of that kind, it ought to be wiped out.
– There are sets of circumstances of which the Department cannot always have full knowledge. I had not been a member of this House very long when I received from all parts of my electorate requests for new telephone lines, whilst old propositions were resuscitated. Upon examining the figures relating to specific lines, I found that certain localities were up against the regulations, and that the estimated cost was altogether out of proportion to what, in my opinion, was a reasonable amount to allow for the building of those lines. I pointed out to the Postmaster-General that the figures in certain cases were altogether unreasonable. I saw the Chief Electrician, Mr. Hesketh, in regard to two or three specific cases, and I am pleased to say that Mr. Hesketh and his chief of staff in Victoria are both commonsense, practical men. I found that they had been endeavouring for some time to put forward the desirableness of having lines constructed upon what are called “.light-line” principles, and I think that many honorable members have but themselves to blame for the fact that their districts have not obtained quicker a’ud cheaper telephone construction. The motion, as it stands, will leave us up against the conditions that obtain to-day as far as the regulations are concerned.
– Does the honorable member mean that it will leave us up agains* the minimum wage ?
– Not at all. I am referring to the fact that, under the regulations at present, 20-ft. and 26-ft. telephone poles would have to be used, even in a way-back district where all that is necessary is a light line. Why not give any particular locality the benefit of local timber, which is being utilized today in fencing and in the erection of buildings? Why should not the local timber be used in such cases, instead of 20-ft. and 26-ft. poles being taken at much cost from a forest 200 or 300 miles away ? Let us revise the whole of the regulations relating to the construction of country telephone lines. The motion, as it stands, only covers in part the case that we have to meet. I would ask the mover of the motion to embrace within its terms a direction that the whole question of country telephone construction should be revised. I agree with the honorable member for Darwin that we want business propositions and local handling. We should adopt the system of transmitting responsibility to the Deputy PostmastersGeneral, and from them to local postmasters. Local propositions, combined with the adoption of the contract system, should secure for us cheaper telephone construction.
.- I should prefer to support the motion in its original form. If more requests are made for the construction of telephone lines than can be complied with, each district should be given a fair show. I mention that, because in my electorate we have wanted a new post-office in one town for the last ten or eleven years. Recently, the man who owned the building previously occupied as a post-office gave the Department notice to quit. They did not go out when they should, although the landlord had a hotel licensee ready to come in, and whenthey ultimately did go out at a day’s notice, the post-office business has to be carried on in a little wooden building, which is entirely unfitted for the purpose. No site has been purchased for a new post-office in the town, and there is no money on the Estimates for the purpose, although the authorities must be aware that the district is a progressive one, and is deserving of attention. I mention this because one honorable member has told us that during the last three years fourteen post-offices in his electorate had been brought up to date. He said, further, that he had had 248 miles of new telegraph lines constructed in his electorate in 1911, and 587 miles in 1912, 172 miles of telephone lines in 1911, and 274 miles in 1912, and that altogether he had had expended in his electorate, during the three years, over £37,000.
– Was that Mr. Chanter ?
– No. If it had been, I should not be getting three or tour letters every day on the subject. The honorable member who gave this information is the honorable member for Gwydir, ashonorable members will see if they refer to Hansard, page 769.
– That must have been the result of the. honorable member’s efforts on the Postal Commission.
– If I am in order in reading from a debate of this session, what the honorable member said was -
Adding together post offices£8,344 14s. 6d., telegraphs , £9,293, and telephones£19,572, we have a total of £37,229 14s. 6d. spent on postal works in the electorate of Gwydir.
In view of the huge increase in Post Office expenditure, I say that every electorate should be given a look in. There are many reasons why the construction of telephone lines costs a good deal of money. I do not favour what might be called a “ poddy “ line. Many lines are being constructed in my district, which is progressing from a pastoral to an agricultural district, and they will require to carry more wires than can be put on one of these stumpy lines. I am in favour of compliance with the departmental regulations as to the poles to be erected.
– What height of pole does the honorable member suggest?
– The regulation height - 12 feet. I hope that the ScotchAmerican, who the honorable member for Darwin suggests should be brought from Chicago is a practical man, and will do a number of practical things which should have been done long ago. In the district in which I live it has been the practice for the last twenty-three years, and I do not know how much longer, for a man to go out once a year and chop down a few suckers in one particular place underneath the telegraph lines. It takes about two days to do the work, but the trees could be grubbed up altogether in about a week, and the work would then be done for all time. Another practice which may be objected to is that of putting up poles of the local colonial pine in a green state. A man gets a contract for. repairing a line, and puts up pine poles when they are green, with the result that in a few years they rot. Any one possessing practical knowledge of the matter knows that if seasoned timber, and especially seasoned pine, is used, the poles will last for a generation. Again, where poles are used of a certain height, it has been a common practice, in repairing a line, to put up an iron pole about 3 feet shorter. If the iron pole is high enough, the old wooden pole for which it has been substituted would do very well again if the rotten part in the ground were cut off. In progressive districts that are changing from pastoral to agricultural, the Department should endeavour to anticipate the requirements of the people. A few years ago a post-office was built in my electorate, and it was hardly up before the outside wall was pulled down and the building enlarged. The Department makes no provision for the future, and I say they should anticipate the probable requirements of progressive districts.
.- I hope that, if it is decided to make the departure proposed and call for tenders for the construction of telephone lines, the Department will see that decent wages are paid to those who are engaged in the work.
– Hear, hear. We all say that.
– If tenders are to be called for, it must be the duty of the Post and Telegraph Department to see that the ruling rates of wages are paid for the work done under the contracts.
– That will be one of the conditions of the specification.
– Suppose a farmer and his sons are prepared to do this work in their slack time ?
– I hope that the farmer and his sons will stick to their farming, and will give men ordinarily engaged in this kind of work a chance to live. I feel confident that the present PostmasterGeneral will see that no hardship is done to the men engaged in this work under contract. I wish, with other honorable members, to see as many telephone lines as possible constructed, but I am not so anxious that they should be constructed as cheaply as possible. If the contract system is to be adopted, proper specifications must be drawn up, and if the work is to be done in the cheapest possible way the specifications will not be very strict.
– We want a good job at a reasonable price.
– We want a good job above all things. If we are to have lines erected too cheaply, and must then employ an army of men in keeping them in repair, they will be found to be very expensive in the long run. The Post and Telegraph Department might have done more in this direction, but what has been done under the Department has been done substantially. We must demand stability if we are to spend the taxpayers’ money in paying contractors to do this work.
– Where only a single wire is to be carried the posts stipulated for are altogether too big.
– The honorable member forgets that where a single wire is sufficient for all purposes now, five or six wires may be required in a few years’ time, and the Department must look ahead.
– The honorable member talks like a city man, and does not understand the conditions in the country districts.
– I think I can claim to have as much experience in the matter as a man whose business it is to lift ink out of a bottle with a pen. I know something about building work, and I know that “ jerry “ work is the most expensive in the long run. The recent decision to reduce the standard height of telephone poles will enable the Department to make much greater progress in the future than has been possible in the past. I am most anxious that those who may be engaged in the work of constructing telegraph and telephone lines under contractshall be given a fair deal, and shall be required to work only the ordinary hours. So long as that is provided for, I shall be satisfied.
.-It it evident from the unanimity of opinion on both sides of the House that honorable members recognise that what is suggested by this motion is very necessary. Some time ago I asked a question with reference to the delay in the construction of telephone lines which had been approved in the Nepean electorate. I make no complaint against the Department for the way they have been receiving my representations, generally I have fared well; but I do complain of delay in constructing those which have been approved. I wished to’ know whether the delay was due to a shortage of staff, and, if so, whether the Postmaster-General would not see the advisability of increasing the staff, in order to avoid delay in the construction of lines within the Nepean and other country districts. I received the following answer to the question I put on the subject : -
The Deputy Postmaster-General, Sydney, has furnished the following information : -
No public telephone lines authorized by this Department in the Nepean electorate are being delayed through shortage df staff.
There were a few telephone subscribers’ lines in that electorate delayed through shortage of material, but they are now in hand.
I can assure honorable members that no more misleading answer could have been given. I do not wish to reflect upon the Deputy Postmaster-General in Sydney, as I believe there is no more conscientious officer, but the information supplied to him by his subordinates was certainly misleading, because, in every instance where the* construction of a telephone line or telephone cabinet has been approved, the approval has been accompanied with a stereotyped footnote to the effect that the work cannot be undertaken for some time owing to the amount of work already in hand. I am sure that other honorable members must have received the same kind of answers as those which I have received. Recently, in connexion with a telephone line in another portion of my electorate, when I drew attention to the answer I got from the Department, I had been told that it was most misleading, because some time ago an officer of the Department had been in the district, and when asked the reason for the delay, he said there were forty preceding claims. When an honorable member asks for information of interest to his constituents he should be supplied by the Department with a correct answer. In another part of my electorate, at Sackville North, the material for a cabinet has been allowed to lie in the yard exposed to all sorts of weather for the past three months waiting for a man to come along and fit it up.
– How about the Liverpool Mauoeuvre Area ?
– This is not the time for airy persiflage. Just now I am dealing with the important matter of telephone construction. I entirely indorse the statement of the honorable member for Darwin, that we have behaved too generously to the cities, and too parsimoniously to the country districts.
– It is the city residents who make our telephone service pay.
– But they would not be able to make it pay were it not for the trade which they get from the country?
– The cities are keeping the country.
– Distributed throughout the Commonwealth are men who are doing what is best for Australia. In other words, they are developing the lands of this country, and to compensate them for the sacrifices which they make in denying themselves the privileges afforded by our cities, we ought to keep them in touch with the more populated parts by granting them telephonic communication. The officials in our various public Departments are past-masters in the art of taking advantage of any loop-hole which an amendment such as that which we are now considering may afford them. If we affirm that telephonic communication shall be granted in country districts “ where practicable,” in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred they will say that it is not practicable. I intend to support the motion in its original form, as a mean3 of expediting telephone construction, and I congratulate the honorable member for Echuca upon having brought it forward.
– In whatever way this motion may be amended, it will mean the same thing. It will mean that telephonic communication shall be granted in every case in which it is practicable to grant it . Fifty motions of this kind, with these words struck out, would not alter the position. Therefore, honorable members upon this side of the House should not pay too much attention to the observations of the old birds “opposite, who are endeavouring to sow seeds of dissension amongst others who are not so wily and oily as is the honorable member for Adelaide. This fact must be heeded : that the Department this year is going to cost 61 or 62 per cent, more than it will collect as revenue. Honorable members have been talking about getting a man out from
America to run the Department. Why, the first thing that he would do would be to double the telephone rates.
– Yet the honorable member thundered at me when I endeavoured to put them up a little.
– I thundered at the honorable member for ignoring the report of the expert, who said that what he was doing would add to the cost of the Department instead of diminishing it.
– What expert?
– The expert who reported upon it as far as he was able to do so.
– Who was he?
– An auditor in this city - Mr. Charles Holmes.
– He never made any such statement.
– He said that the change would not lead to any benefit from a financial point of view.
– He said no such thing.
– Let the honorable member read his report and convict me of inaccuracy. This year, the Department is going to cost £2,750,000 more than it will collect in revenue.
– That does not matter. The expenditure is developing the country.
– I am answering the question which has been put to me from the other side of the House at least ten times to-day. I say that the expenditure upon the Postal Department this year will be £1,300,000 above the expenditure of last year.
– For telephones only?
– For the whole Department. A good deal of that expenditure will be for telephone construction work. Pending a reconstruction of this Department, I am not disposed to put the pruning knife into it, so far as these country services are concerned. Honorable members may blink this matter as much as they like, but I am afraid they will never get an efficient Department until they put it under the control of business men.
– Heaven help the country when it is placed under Commissioners !
– We have had enough of that system.
– The reasons for this trouble are many. We have not the material, and we have not the men trained to do this particular kind of work. This Parliament is responsible for that to a very “great extent. Everybody knows that the Department was starved for years. Now we are glutting it with money. The result is that it has not the staff trained to do this particular work, and I am afraid that we shall not get such a staff until we place business men in charge of it to conduct it as every other private business is conducted.
– Cold water is being poured on the motion now.
– What I am saying is in favour of the motion under consideration. If we are going to have an increase in construction works, we must have efficiency of construction. Efficiency is the very first letter in the alphabet of cheapness. The first thing for us to do is to set our house in order - to put our Post Office under men who will infuse efficiency into its control. Meantime, we must do the best that we can. The Government are endeavouring to hand works out to anybody who can undertake them, either in the country or anywhere else. Instructions were issued months ago with that end in view. Everything that my honorable friends are asking for has already been done.
– What about the specifications which the Postmaster-General promised us ?
– They are not yet ready. The Department is engaged on the specifications. Honorable members must recollect that we cannot change from a régime of day-labour to one of contract in a night. The moment we discharge men when a work has been completed, there is an outcry in Parliament about it.
– Why should not there be ?
– I do not say that there should not be. But that is one of the difficulties that weare endeavouring to avoid. We shall have to make the change gradually.
– Cannot those men go to work for the contractors?
– In some cases “yes,” and in other cases “no.” We cannot make this important change without some little trouble, and without the lapse of some little time. As far as the Government can make it, they propose to do it for their own sake, and for the sake of the country.
– “ As far as practicable.”
– As far as practicable. The honorable member . may sneer at these words as much as he chooses. I like his sneering after three years of rule such as we have had. As the result of my honorable friend’s attempt to govern the country, we have all these complaints and criticism. That he, above ail others, should sneer at any proposal for the betterment of existing conditions is something rich. I want to say if this sneering and superfine member for Adelaide will permit me-
– Order ! The Prime Minister must withdraw the words “sneering and superfine.”
– I withdraw them. But I have listened to much stronger language from the honorable member during this debate.
– That is a reflection on Mr. Speaker.
– That is not fair. The Prime Minister is attacking Mr. Speaker.
– I am sure that you, sir, are obliged to my honorable friends opposite-
– Do not fall out with your majority.
– I would like a little order so tha t I may makeone or two observations.
– The Prime Minister has requested that I should call honorable members to order. I have done so several times already, but since the matter has been specially brought under my notice, I again ask honorable members to remain silent.
– The Government are in sympathy with this motion in any form.
– Then why not let it be carried ?
– I hope that it will be. It will be a general direction to the Government which they will welcome and which they will act upon at the earliest possible moment.
.- Honorable members opposite are easily pleased if they are going to accept the chaff which the Prime Minister has just thrown out. Ever since the inception of Federation, 1 have been pegging away at this business. But I wish to ask the Prime Minister whether the Postal Department can point to a single instance of atelephone line which has been erected in the Commonwealth not proving a financial success ? I ask leave to continue my remarks on a future occasion.
Leave granted ; debate adjourned.
Sitting suspended from 6.30 to 7.45 p.m.
In Committee of Supply (Consideration resumed from 2nd October, vide page 1802, on motion by Sir John Forrest) -
That the first item in the Estimates, under Divisioni - The Parliament - namely, The President, £1,100, be agreed to.
.- The few remarks that I have already addressed to the Committee on the subject of the Budget dealt with a statement of the Treasurer which I think is calculated to mislead the public as to the surplus left by the last Government, and the manner in which it was dealt with. I shall read the statement to which I refer, to give the Treasurer an opportunity of saying plainly whether he intended to convey to the public anything but the actual facts. He stated that the actual surplus was £2,653,223, and, according to the Hansard report of his speech, page 1777, went on to say -
Of this amount, however, only £195,450 was held in cash on 30th June, 1913.
The balance of £2,457,773 was invested to the extent of £1,310,000 as part of investments of £3,448,015 of General Trust Funds, and will mature between 25th December, 1913, and 20th June, 1914, viz. : -
Of the balance of £1,147,773 the investments cannot be converted into cash in the ordinary way till investments fall due by maturing, on the Australian Notes Account between this date and 30th June, 1914.
While the investment of this £2,457,773( which it ought to have been foreseen would soon be required), except at call, was, I think, unwise, I feel sure the inconvenience which will be only temporary will be easily overcome.
I think it ought to be easily overcome. The Treasurer knows that more than £4,000,000 of trust money will fall due within sixteen months.
– That is so.
– Then what inconvenience can arise? The money falls in every other mouth. The Treasurer’s statement is likely to leave a false impression on the minds of persons unacquainted with the facts.
– The statement is absolutely true.
– It is one of those halftruths that are worse than direct lies.
– How much would you want during this financial year!
– I know what the Government of which I had charge would have wanted, but Heaven only knows what the Treasurer wants. This is a borrowing Government with a borrowing Treasurer. What is the history of borrowing in this Parliament? The first Liberal Treasurer, Sir George Turner, during the first session of the first Parliament, proposed to borrow £500,000, but Parliament prevented him from doing so, and borrowing was stopped for a period of seven years. The next proposal to borrow came from the Fusion Government,, which introduced a Bill to authorize the raising of a loan of £3,500,000 to provide for the defence of Australia by purchasing a Navy.
– Before that there was in the Budget speech of 1909 the suggestion that £1,400,000 should be borrowed on Treasury-bills.
– lt was in 1909 that the proposal to borrow £3,500,000 was made.
– It was proposed to borrow £1,400,000 in addition for old-age pensions.
– Then the Fusion Government intended to borrow £3,500,000, but, fortunately, it was not able to borrow anything. The Bill to which I have referred was passed, although the Labour party resisted it to the utmost, but directly after the election we, being returned to power, repealed it. Let rae recall to the Committee what the position was in 1910, when the Labour Government came into office. I shall quote, not from Labour newspapers, but from newspapers which have always supported the Liberal party. The Argus, on 15th April, 1910, said -
The new Labour Ministry will take office at the close of the financial year, and it will commence the year with a deficit of between £900,000 and ;£i ,000,000. The estimate is based on most authentic figures.
The Sydney Morning Herald of the same date said -
When the new Government takes office it will find itself face to face with a serious problem - that of providing for a serious deficit for the financial year ending 30th June next. Sir John Forrest estimated that the Commonwealth would be about ,£900,000 short when it came to meet all its obligations at the end of the’ year.
The Fusion Government did not meet ite obligations; the people put that Government on one side. We met our obligations, and repealed the Act which authorized the borrowing of £3,500,000.
– How did the right honorable member meet his obligations?
– By paying the money necessary to do so.
– Where did the right honorable member get it?
– From the people.
– From the States.
– A new financier! Did not the Prime Minister say that we had expended every penny that we had received, and every penny that we. could lav our hands on ?
– I have answered that question a hundred times. For Heaven’s sake, say something fresh.
– Did not the Minister say at Ballarat, on the 19th September, in explanation of his statement, after he had been challenged, and had climbed down a bit -
When he (Mr. Cook) made that statement, Mr. Fisher had announced that at the end of the financial vear he would not have a penny left.
– I did. I not only said that, but the right honorable member said it himself. I said that the right honorable member had written it, and had attached his signature to the statement.
– The honorable member’s statement that I said that I would not have a penny left was made a. full fortnight after my Maryborough speech, wherein I had said that there would be a surplus of at least £2,261,541 at the end of the year.
– The’ Prime Minister Would say anything.
– The right honorable member’s statement is on the records.
– In my Maryborough policy speech, which was published in all the newspapers, I said that, according to the estimate, there would be a surplus of at least £2,261,541.
– Did not the right honorable member, in dealing with the Estimates, anticipate a deficit of nearly £2,500,000?
– The honorable member believes what the Prime Minister said.
– I read the statement in a newspaper.
– What I said at Maryborough was that, “in all probability,” there would be a surplus of £2,261,541 at the end of the financial year after paying every penny that was owing.
– The right honorable member did not forecast a deficit ?
– No. The words I used in my Maryborough speech were these - I spoke on the 31st March, 1913 -
It is now almost certain that the revenue of the year will suffice for the expenditure, and that the surplus of £2,261,541 will remain intact on 30th June next.
– Did not the right honorable member provide for meeting the deficit by taking the surpluses from the Naval Reserve Fund and the Old-age Pension Fund?
– The honorable member must have been reading the Argus report.
– I read the statement in the Sydney Morning Herald.
– I read it in the Estimates, over the right honorable member’s signature.
– The investments of the Australian notes money maturing before the end of the current financial year are these : Western Australian Treasury bills, £100,000; New South Wales Government fixed deposits, £800,000, £200,000, and four amounts of £100,000 each; Queensland Government fixed deposits, £840,000; Commonwealth Bank fixed deposit, £50,000; Brisbane Bank fixed deposit, £25,000; and Launceston Bank fixed deposit, £25,000; a total of £2,440,000. There mature, within a few weeks of the end of the financial year, three Commonwealth Bank fixed deposits of £50,000, the dates of maturity being the 31st July, the 31st August, and the 30th September, 1914. These fixed deposits total £150,000, which, added to the total already given, makes £2,590,000. The Trust Fund investments maturing before the end of the current financial year are : Western Australian Treasury-bills, two amounts of £100,000 and £200,000; New South Wales fixed deposits, £750,000, and Queensland Government fixed deposits, £160,000. These, with interest payments amounting to about £150,000, total £1,460,530. The total amount which will be available to the Commonwealth from the investments which I have just mentioned, up to the end of the current financial year, will be £4,050,530, plus £195,450 in cash on the 30th June last. The right honorable gentleman has more than £4,000,000 to use.
– We need more than that.
– The right honorable gentleman would use £20,000,000 if he could get it. May I suggest that he will not be able to throw away money in the manner he proposes to do? The amount of money which he proposes to spend could not be decently expended within eighteen months. Any man who knows anything about the proper expenditure of money knows that to be a fact. The idea of spending in a few months something like £7,000,000 sterling more than was spent last year is absolutely ridiculous.
– That is not so. It is only £4,000,000 in the Budget-papers.
– We are to borrow £3,080,000, and I presume we are to spend it. We also propose to spend the surplus of £2,600,000. That is nearly £6,000,000.
– You cannot get away from the figures. You spent £23,000,000 last year, and we are to spend £27,000,000 this year.
– Let me revert to the borrowing propensities of these Liberals, or these Conservatives, who talk of preserving the finances of the country, but yet every time they get the opportunity propose borrowing.
– Did you ever borrow any money ?
– Had it not been for the party now sitting as Opposition that came into the Federal Parliament sixteen strong, the probability is that the loan indebtedness of the Commonwealth would now be £30,000,000 or £40,000,000. When we submitted the Bill for repealing the Naval Loan Act, after we came back from the country, and after the arrangement had been made with the States by the Deakin Government, the present Treasurer said -
I believe this proposal to be unwise and contrary to the best interest of the country.
I also think that the action now taken by the Government, supported by a large majority of the House, is the beginning of a system of oppressive taxation which will injure most those whom it is intended to assist.
Later on, dealing with the same subject, the honorable member for Parramatta said -
It is a mistaken policy to repeal such an Act in view of the future history of the Empire in relation to Naval Defence.
How can we insure any protection unless we take steps to protect our trade? If ever there was a reproductive work, the building of a navy adequate to protect Australia is, in its very essence, a reproductive enterprise.
I do not hesitate to say that the notation of a Naval Loan would have been a good thing for Australia in many ways. lie gave other reasons, but they are all on the same line. He was against the repeal of the Naval Loan Act, because he thought we could not finance the affairs of the country without resorting to borrowing. Yet he says now that,’ instead of conserving the public finances by preventing the borrowing mania, we were lavish in our expenditure, and increased the taxation on the people.
– You were the very first Government in Australia that borrowed for naval purposes. You borrowed £850,000 last year for a naval dock.
– Listen to the suggestion of the Prime Minister now. We took over a transferred property in his own State, and that property to-day would sell for the money with which it was purchased.
– Are you going to pay interest on it, or are you not ?
– All transferred properties come over, and should come over, in the same way. It was no new obligation, like the building of a navy.
– It was a new obligation.
– The honorable member seems to think that an island in his own State is going to die out like a battleship. An island in the centre of Sydney harbor, and equipped in every way for the particular purpose of a naval dock, will become more valuable in years to come, yet the honorable member wishes to treat it as he would treat a ship. It is with such ideas that honorable members seek to permeate the minds of the public. They have no occasion to use illustrations that are false in every way when we begin to examine them.
– Not only the island, but a lot of old boilers and old machinery.
– I cannot allow the Prime Minister to keep up a running commentary on the speech of the honorable member for Wide Bay. There is a habit growing in this Chamber this session, and it is assuming very serious dimensions. When an honorable member is speaking, it is a frequent occurrence that another honorable member who thinks he has a reply endeavours to get in that reply straight away by interjection. It is impossible to carry on a debate in that way. The Standing Orders provide for any reply to be made by way of a speech, and I hope that during this debate honorable members will remember that
– True to the failing of their predecessors and themselves, the present Government propose in this Budget to expend a certain amount out of loan moneys for defence purposes other than that I have already indicated of a permanent nature. I believe it is absolutely false financing in times of peace,- especially in times of abounding prosperity in regard to finance, to pay anything for defence purposes out of loan moneys. We heard during the elections ihat the Fisher Government had been revelling in revenue ; that they did not know what to do with it ; but the revenue of the present Government is as high as was ours. They calculate it for the current year as practically the same, and they propose to spend the £2,650,000 we left them, as well as the £3,080,000 they seek to borrow. And notwithstanding all their income from revenue, they propose to expend loan moneys for defence purposes. They have introduced a bad system. It will be an evil day for this country if, during times of peace and prosperous years, it pledges its credit, and, in times of difficulty and trouble, when there is fighting to be done and destruction takes place, it has to fall back on loan resources, when, perhaps, its credit is exhausted. If anything shows shrewdness or foresight in the management of a country, it is when its people conserve their energies in good times and in times of peace, so that their credit may be good when adversity arises, and they can protect themselves in that way. The present Ministers are not doing that. They do not propose to do it. Tn the country they talked about our extravagance, and there were misleading statements uttered quite honestly by those who were misled by their chiefs and by their newspapers, leaving a false impression in the minds of the electors. The people know better now. I wish to go back to say a word or two to the Treasurer about the investments. The right honorable gentleman could have given a little more detailed information about them.
– Everything is in the Budget-papers.
– I am 1106 complaining about anything being omitted from the Budget-papers; but the Treasurer was not a whole-hearted supporter of the principle of Australian notes. It is quite true that from time to time he has said that it was his own idea, and it is quite true that he has said that he would have treated the matter very differently; but I may remind him that the same principle was brought into existence in 1893 in Queenslaud, and worked well through all the years until the time the Commonwealth took it over. The Queensland law provided for a gold basis of not less than 25 per cent. , with a working basis practically up to 33 per cent., and we cannot find a responsible man in Queensland who believed that this basis was not absolutely sufficient as a gold margin. There are some people, of course, who will not go from home for any idea untilit suits their own political convictions. I notice that we are promised, in the Governor- General’s Speech, an amendment of the Australian Notes Act for some particular purpose. I presume it is to restore the old provision entered into when the Act was first passed. If so, I shall not be able to support it, and I hope the majority of honorable members will not support it. It is quite unnecessary. It is proposed to bring the amount held in gold back to 25 per cent, up to £7,000,000, and pound for pound after that.
– As the honorable member introduced it.
– That means that the Treasurer is going to further increase the present money stringency, because that other money is available for investment. The Treasurer also failed to point out that there is a provision in the Australian Notes Act by which the whole of the earnings from the investments are capitalized, and re-invested, and their in terest is re-invested again compoundly, so that within a very short period the reserve will be, as I think, ridiculously high, and a great loss will ensue to the people of Australia. The earnings from the Australian Notes Account amount to £21G,000 annually. That is nearly a quarter of a million pounds of annual interest which the Treasurer will get, and still he proposes to keep down every pound above £7,000,000 - an excessive amount. Victoria is a gold State. Somehow its people prefer gold, but the people in the more widely scattered places are far more trustful, and have far more confidence iu their own country than have the people iu the big communities. Is there a man on the Ministerial side who will say that the credit of the Commonwealth is not ample and sufficient with a not less than 25 per cent, gold backing for the Australian notes? The question has often been asked, “ What would you do if there was a rush for a million or two?” We should simply pay it, and by the time they carted it away they would be glad to cart it back again. I do not believe the people of Australia would ever create any panic against the Commonwealth. They have too much sense, and I believe the Government are doing this more to save their faces than because of their honest convictions on the question. The other Trust Funds speak for themselves. They are part of ‘the accumulated surplus of the previous Government, and other useful funds belonging to various trusts that have been established by this Parliament. The accusation of the Treasurer that I, during my term as Treasurer, invested too much of these funds, is unwarranted. If he had been in office, he evidently would not have placed the money at interest, but would have allowed it to remain un-interest bearing. Instead of it earning over £338,000, he apparently would have been quite content to leave it with other institutions earning nothing.
– That is only assumption.
– Why did the honorable member complain?
– I said shorter dates.
– Would the honorablemember like any dates shorter than a few months? Within fifteen months therewill be £4,245,000 available.
– What about the £3,000,000 that is tied up for from six to thirteen years?
– The rest is practically all at short dates. There is £5,720,000 in the Australian Notes Account, and there is £3,448,000 in the other, and out of this total of about £9,168,000 the Treasurer sayswe have tied up £3,000,000. It is advisable that that amount should be invested in good securities, because it is practically the amount necessary to protect the Australian Notes Act.
– There is the gold in the Treasury, is there not?
– Certainly we have the gold in the Treasury, and we shall have that amount of money available from the Trust Funds. I think about £2,500,000 was invested up to 1926 - not a very long term. The Treasurer appears to argue that we should have had all this money short-dated, so that if a Ministry like the present one came into office it would be able to distribute it all in the first three years.
– I simply saidI thought it would have been wiser.
– If the matter had been put that way at first, I should not have raised the question; but it was put very differently. It was suggested that that money was dealt with recklessly. If the Treasurer is proposing to spend all that money this year, what does he propose to do next year? At the same percentage rate, it will mean during the three years, after mopping up the surplus, probably £15,000,000 of added debt. If this is done, disaster will be absolutely inevitable within a few years. Boom years followed on the advent of the previous Liberal Administration. It was a case of spend everything and borrow everything.
– Did the honorable member think that he would expend £27,000,000 this year?
– That is all the Government propose to expend.
– I know; and the only reason they are limited to that amount is because they cannot get any more. The show piece of the Budget is the taking over of the State debts. I saw the right honorable gentleman beam across the chamber, and did not begrudge him that little pleasure, while he was announcing this policy.
– It is a good one.
– It may be a good one; but I would like to know which member of this House understands it. At page 1789 of Hansard the Treasurer deals with the public debts of Australia in the following words: -
The Government propose to introduce aBill to take over the State debts as they mature, and to relieve the States of all liability in respect of such debts afterwards.
Provision will be made for the Commonwealth to borrow for the States, if requested to do so, but there will be no restriction on the States borrowing for themselves.
A sinking fund of½ per cent., vested in trustees, for the redemption of the debts will be provided. The Bill will be a very simple, and not in any way complicated, measure, and should, I think, meet with approval.
It is said there that the Treasurer will, out of the 25s. returned to the States, be able to meet the payments on the indebtedness of the States.
– That is as they mature.
– In what way ?
– Because they will not mature all at once, and the population will be increasing. I did not make the statement without book. It has all been worked out, and, I believe, is absolutely correct.
– Does the Treasurer propose to retain the 25s. from the moment the Bill is passed, or from the time he takes over the debts?
– He proposes, when he takes over a maturing debt for a State, to withhold from that State so much of the 25s. per head as will meet the obligation on that particular indebtedness.
– So much as we pay. There will be no profit to the Commonwealth .
– And the Treasurer’s policy is to return the balance to the State?
– But at the period when the honorable member takes over the whole of the New South Wales debts, for instance, he cannot pay the interest on them and all the other State debts in this way.
– Had not the honorable member better wait until a proposal is brought down?
– I believe the State debts question is not a party matter. It is a matter that concerns Australia, and can only be successfully settled by the co-operation of all parties: There is not the slightest chance of doing it otherwise, and it would be very difficult to do it even that way. That is the reason I am asking for information on this point. It is as clear as daylight that there is not nearly sufficient revenue returned to the States at present to meet their interest bill.
– We will meet the debts as they mature.
– The amount returned to the States is only about 50 per cent. of what is necessary to meet the total amount of interest on the indebtedness of the States. Therefore, I think that this matter might have been made a little clearer.
– This is not the Bill, but only an outline.
– The thing is impos sible. The language is most carefully selected - I do not say it is evasive. The Government is going to take over the debts at the date of maturity. That will mean that the most distant-dated bond held by a State will be taken over by the Commonwealth, say, 60 years hence. I now come to the policy side of the question. In my opinion, the proposal is as weak as it could be. I think it will be ineffective. It will be no help to the States, and will probably damage the credit of the Commonwealth. At the present time I am not going into the question of the attempt of the Government, by a subterfuge, to make the payment of 25s. per capita a permanent contribution by the Commonwealth to all the States. It is a mere open and avowed declaration of policy, absolutely contrary to the statement of the Attorney-General when this question was before the Parliament before.
– There is no declaration of policy at allyet.
– Either it means that, or it means nothing, because the. Treasurer has made a declaration of policy that the 25s. per capita will meet this obligation, and once the debts become a permanent burden on the Commonwealth it can find the money for ever.
– The whole position will be put before the House in a Bill.
– The whole position must be put forward in a Bill.
– It cannot be otherwise.
– It can have no legal effect otherwise, but fifty Bills will not alter a policy. A Government declares its financial policy in its Budget. The policy of the present Government on this question is declared in the Budget speech of the Treasurer. This proposal is part of the financial policy. The Government cannot have one policy in the Budget, and another policy in the Bill, otherwise a new system of responsible government is being inaugurated in this Parliament. Still, one never knows what may happen in these times. The Attorney- General cannot get out of his position, which is anomalous compared to that which he took up in 1909, and when he was on the platform in 1910. I am not sufficiently acquainted with his statements on the platform in 1913 to say whether he was of the same opinion then as he was previously, when I heard him speak; and read his words. But I do say that this declaration of policy means a permanent contribution to the States of the 25s. per head of the population.
– It means nothing of the kind.
– Not only doI say that, but I submit that it is inevitable because the Government is not proposing to levy upon the States. The Treasurer says that the 25s. per head will be ample to redeem the obligation. There is no suggestion of levying on the States at all. May I point out here to the Treasurer that once the Commonwealth takes over an indebtedness equal to the amount of the contribution made by the Commonwealth to a State, he cannot go back on it ? I am sure that the Attorney-General is too practical to deal with a hypothetical case.
– The Treasurer admits that he is gambling on the population increase.
– The population increase does not affect the question, because our burden, having once been created, will continue, and the compound interest on that payment will be equal to the increase of population at any period if it is a mere matter of finance. There is another point to be considered. One wonders whether the Government, which is so much attached to a State-rights’ policy, consulted the States in this matter. There is no evidence that the Government did. I believe that three State Premiers have said that they -heard nothing of the proposal. In my opinion, the better plan would have been to consult the States and all parties in the Commonwealth. I am convinced by the manner in which the proposal has been brought in that it is a placard evidencing a very laudable desire on the part of the Treasurer to deal with the matter again during his term of office. I congratulate him upon the attainment of an ambition, which, I think, has been long and very honorably held, to settle this question. In this Parliament other members have proposed schemes for dealing with the question, and I am bound to say that all had their origin in what I consider the most business-like proposition made by Mr. Robert Harper, the late member for Mernda. I have always said that from my point of view his was the most sensible scheme. The other schemes were hybrid attempts to deal with the question, founded on his facts and ideas. I believe that this is not the way to deal with the matter. I think it will be ruinous to the Commonwealth, and not good for the States, to leave the States absolutely free to borrow as they think fit. This settlement of the question will not establish one borrower, because there will be seven borrowers, each with an obligation of its own. The idea in consolidating the State debts has been to have one borrower with a council composed of men drawn from the States and the Commonwealth, who, even if they could not agree on all principles, would be able to agree that two loans should not be put on the London market together, that there should be no competition where it could be avoided. A council of that sort would have done good work. At the same time, I believe that the better plan would have been for the Commonwealth to pass legislation, in conjunction with the States, taking over the whole responsibility of the State indebtedness now, and the whole of the responsibility of borrowing on their behalf. By that means, I venture to say, there would have been established a Commonwealth stock which would have commanded a better credit than any State stocks, and would at the same time have saved money to the community.
– That is the object which we all want to attain. The only question is as to the means.
– In my opinion, the means now proposed are not good. The consideration of the question has been precipitated in a wrong way. I think it is not doing the States much credit to say that they should be brought into an arrangement without the slightest consultation with them.
– Nobody has said that.
– The statement has been made by Mr. Watt, Mr. Barnes, and, I think, Mr. Cann.
– None of them has seen the Bill.
– Surely the AttorneyGeneral does not say that the policy of the Government in this matter has not been declared absolutely by the Treasurer, and much more so than if it were embodied in a Bill? When it has been declared by the Government, the States may feel that they have been entirely ignored again.
– They have had a long while to think over it- three years.
– I am not saying that they have not had a long time for reflection, but the right honorable gentleman knows that he has no power to coerce them. He can take over the State debts at any particular moment, but he cannot in any way bind the States as to their future. He can take over on behalf of the Commonwealth, if the Parliament will allow him, the whole of the responsibility for the State debts without consulting the States, but the States can go on in the same old way, and the last stage will be worse than the first. That is what the right honorable gentleman is proposing, owing to what I call a little personal ambition. It is not like him in many respects. He would have done much better, I think, if he had acted as I have suggested. As my time has nearly expired,
I must contrast the boldness of the Government on the State debts question-
– We will, give you more time.
– Things have been said in this House about myself and others, that I have never heard before in Parliament, and I shall be under no obligation to any honorable member in this, or other matters, until we. have a settlement elsewhere, and the sooner the better.
– That is pointed, and very determined.
– The bold, determined action of the Government in regard to its loan policy, and also its State debts policy, is in violent contrast with its determination with regard to the maternity allowance. On a thousand platforms, the fist was shaken, and the Attorney-General said he hoped that this Parliament had not adopted the principle permanently.
– Hear, hear.
– The honorable gentleman hoped that the manhood and the womanhood of Australia were not going to be undermined by legislation of that kind, and yet, in the first declaration of policy which the Government make, the Treasurer says, “ We do not intend to deal with the matter this session,” When are Ministers going to do so ? They say now, “ We are not going to deal with the matter; we are not sure that we are right.” . To show their chagrin and their unger, they have affronted the people who have accepted the maternity allowance. They have expressed regret again and again that so many persons have taken it. What right has any one to express a regret of that kind, and so reflect on those who have taken the allowance? Under the law, the recipients are entitled to the allowance. It is because the law casts no reflection on any recipient that it makes some persons angry. If it contained the sting of pauperism, its opponents would laugh, and hug it to their souls. It is a gift from the nation to the recipient in recognition of a greater gift which will make the nation what it ought to be. The Treasurer’s proposal regarding invalid and old- . age pensions, in my opinion, will prove to be a mistake. I believe that the payment of the pensions to State and charitable institutions, unless the old-age pensioners are sent there by magistrates, will prove mischievous in many instances. I wish to heaven that it would be otherwise; bub I do think that the payment of the money to the charitable institutions’ will not have a beneficial effect. It will benefit them for a short .time. I presume I am correct in thinking that the Treasurer has in his mind not only State, but private institutions?
– I think that the words convey that.
– Oh, no.
– Only the State institutions ?
– Certainly; and benevolent institutions.
– Only the State, not private, institutions ?
– Certainly not private.
– If the payment is to apply only to State institutions, the ground is narrowed very greatly.
– Order 1 The honorable member’s time has expired.
– I do not propose to occupy very much time to-night; but I do want to straighten out this .old matter, which has been .in controversy now for some months, and which has been the subject of at least a hundred speeches of my right honorable friend up and down the country, and has necessitated, I should think, ‘ a hundred replies. The old ghost is here. No matter how one answers the right honorable gentleman, he keeps on repeating his statement all over Australia, and I am going to try to-night to lay this ghost once and for all. In the first place, it is true, as my right honorable friend says, that we did leave a deficit, three . years ago, to our successors in office. But how - was that deficit composed ? Knowing that additional revenue from the States was likely to augment the revenues which we were then receiving, we did overstep the constable a little. But for what purpose ? Here are the items, and honorable members may check them for themselves if they care to take the trouble. We placed upon the Estimates that year, for defence alone, £524,000 over and above what had been placed there by our predecessors in the previous year. We put on £388,000 extra for old-age pensions, and an additional £381,000 for the Postal Department, or a total of £1,293,000 extra expenditure in that year. We did all this, and yet left a deficit of only £450,000.
– And the honorable member’s Government got a surplus of about £600,000 from us when they came into office on that occasion.
– But when the right honorable member talks about this deficit of ours, he always omits to tell the country that his Government increased it by the end of that year to £1,100,000. Our deficit of £450,000 for a whole year was increased by our successors by £650,000 in six months. That is a fact which the right honorable gentleman never puts before the country. He increased the deficit at the . rate of £1,300,000 a year.
– What the honorable member omits to tell the country is that we concluded the year with a financial surplus.
– Of course, owing to the arrangement-
– The honorable member is attempting to mislead.
– The honorable member for Adelaide reminded me of my duty last night, and I know that I have but to recall the fact to him to secure his assistance to-night in maintaining order.
– Of course, they had a surplus on the year’s transactions, for the simple reason that we had made an arrangement with the States, which gave them that year an extra revenue of £3,000,000. Who would not have had a surplus in those circumstances? They could not spend the money, try as they might, and, therefore, they had a surplus.
– Notwithstanding that this extra revenue was coming in, the honorable member’s party went for a loan of £3,500,000.
– The honorable member does not know what he is talking about. He is speaking of something that occurred long before the time to which I am referring. The complaint made up and down the country by the Leader of the Opposition is that, with £3,000,000 extra revenue coming from this one source alone, we did not impose fresh taxation to liquidate a paltry deficit of £450,000. But is it fair to say that we left them a deficit at all? I wonder what honorable member, if an arrangement had been made to increase his in come for the year by £3,000,000, at the same time that he owed £450,000, would think he was in debt at all ? That was exactly the position in this instance, and it would have been criminal on our part to attempt to liquidate the deficit in any other way than by leaving it to be squared by the extra £3,000,000 which was coming immediately from the States. The right honorable gentleman, not satisfied with taking all this money from the States, in order to liquidate the deficit of £1,100,000 at the end of the year, ante-dated by six months the expiration of the operation of the Braddon section, so as totake from the States money with which to pay these debts.
– That was the honorable member’s proposal.
– Nothing of the kind.
– Nothing of the kind.
– Does the Treasurer agree with that statement?
– The other arrangement was a different one altogether.
– In the last half of that year the honorable member for Wide Bay, as Treasurer, only re- turned to the States, I think, about 2s. per head of their population. At all events, by ante-dating the expiration of the Braddon section, he took the money from the States to liquidate this precious debt of his.
-Following the agreement made by the Deakin-Cook Government, which the people rejected
– It was rejected only as to one point. I have put the position plainly, and shown how this little deficit is to be accounted for. We made an arrangement with the States which gave our successors £14,000,000 extra revenue for the next few years, but because we did not raise extra taxation to liquidate the deficit of £450,000 we have had all this denunciation on the part of the Leader of the Opposition from every platform in the Commonwealth. A Government which leaves a deficit of £450,000 to be paid off, but makes an arrangement for £14,000,000 of extra revenue to go into the Exchequer makes, I think, very good financial provision indeed. But instead of thankfulness for such an arrangement, we have had nothing but denunciation of our ineptitude from the right honorable member who, I repeat, spent all that money, every penny of it, as it came in, and more to boot. He had over £20,000,000 of extra revenue.
– The honorable member said £14,000,000 just now.
– Over £20,000,000 of extra revenue was received by the Fisher Government during its three years of office, and for them to taunt us about a paltry deficit of £450,000 is to me the height of impudence and absurdity. They must think that the people of this country are fools if they believe that they will pay attention to such statements when all these facts are patent to them. So much for the deficit.
An Honorable Member. - Does he believe it?
– He does nob believe it at all.
– You called me to order very sharply a little while ago, Mr. Chairman, yet I cannot obtain order.
– It is impossible for me to prevent interjections–
– The insulting member for Adelaide insults me every time that I rise.
– Order ! It is impossible for me to prevent interjections. I can only remind the Committee of my powers, which I am loth to carry to an extreme. I have endeavoured to do my duty as fairly as I can, and I hope that both sides will assist me and make my task a little lighter than it has been up to the present.
– I call attention to the statement by the honorable member for Adelaide that I do not believe what I am saying. It is most insulting, and I require it to be withdrawn.
– The remark was not in order, and I ask the honorable member to withdraw it.
– I am perfectly agreeable to abide by y”.our decision, Mr. Chairman; but I should like to explain that my remark was not addressed to the Prime Minister. A remark was made on this side about some one believing what he said, and I replied, “ He does not believe it.” The observation had no reference to the Prime Minister; but I suppose that it is with him the case of a guilty conscience.
– I shall let the remark pass. It adds another to the number of insults I have received, 1 come now to another matter which I desire to clear up. The Leader of the Opposition lias accused me all over the country of making infamous misstatements concerning the spending of public money by his Government. This is what I said up and down the country, and all that I said. I quoted from the Estimates for the year ending 30th June, 1913, over the signature of “Andrew Fisher, Treasurer,” signed at the Commonwealth Treasury on the 31st July, 1912: Those Estimates show that the right honorable gentleman estimated to spend that year £22,683,000, and that he estimated to receive during that year £20,422,000. In other words, he anticipated a deficit on the year’s transactions of £2,261,000, which amount was to be carried forward from Trust Funds, and spent in that year in .order to square the ledger.
– It was not a deficit at all.
– That is the statement I have made. I accused the right honorable gentleman of spending every penny of tins money, and I repeat that the estimate here is for every farthing of it to be spent.
– And the honorable member said that I spent every farthing on which I could lay my hands.
– I have given the statement that I made.
– The honorable member “admitted the correctness of what I read just now.
– At the time that was perfectly correct.
– It was a fortnight after the Maryborough speech.
Mr.- JOSEPH COOK.- No such thing.
– I shall get the date from the Daily Telegraph.
– Here are these Estimates, in which, over the right honorable member’s own signature, we have the statement that he estimated that, at the end of the year in question, every penny, including the whole £20,000,000 of additional revenue which he had received over and above that received by his predecessors, would be spent. There was not to be a farthing, let alone a penny, left in the Treasury.
– What about his subsequent statement?
– Here is the statement to which I have been referring all along; and I am not going to be drawn off this point to deal with any subsequent statement.
– Never mind any subsequent statement. This statement by the Prime Minister can be easily answered when his trickiness is over.
– There is no trick about this; it is a simple quotation from the present Leader of the Opposition’s own Estimates. He estimated, just as we estimate this year, to spend every penny.
– And the honorable member knows that the right honorable member for Wide Bay subsequently amended that statement.
– And subsequently I said so.
– The honorable member did not.
– I say that I did ; and my statement was reported in twenty newspapers.
– What does thehonorable gentleman say to-night?
– I intend to say something more to-night about the famous financing of honorable members opposite. We have heard a good deal about loan moneys, and the enormous commitments we are proposing this year. It is perfectly true, but honorable members opposite have left us such a legacy that whatever Government succeeded them was bound to honestly meet the obligations they left. That is all that this Government have done. Moreover, the present Government cannot begin seriously to interfere with the financial policy until they get the proper statutory power to enable them to do so. We are here with our hands tied behind our backs. Everybody knows that.
– That is a strange acknowledgement.
– Everybody knows it. We have been made aware of it for some months past now, and honorable members opposite tell us to our faces that they will not give us the necessary statutory power to do this or anything else.
– No decent Government, with any sense of self-respect, would remain in office under such conditions.
– We take that rather as a compliment.
– The honorable gentleman can take it as he likes. It is true.
– Was the right honorable member for Wide Bay playing a trick, then, when he advised that we should be put here ? Did he put us here with the thought at the back of his mind that no decent Government should be here under these circumstances ?
– No respectable men, with any sense of decency, would remain there under the circumstances.
– I am sure that the honorable member for Kennedy is a good judge of respectability and of decency, too.
– I am talking politically.
– Order ! I call the honorable member for Kennedy to order.
– I am very sorry. I apologize.
– I am sorry that I have to get these facts out, but really, they must be got out. I turn again to the Estimates of the last Government, and I intend to show exactly what they proposed to do last year. We hear all this wild talk to-night about our proposing to spend £5,000,000 or £6,000,000 more than we have revenue to meet; but how did the case stand last year ? I have already quoted the figures for the ordinary revenue and expenditure. The revenue was to be £20,422,000. and I have shown that the ordinary expenditure commitments amounted to £22,683,000. They amounted to, to be more exact, £2,268,354 over and above the revenue received. In addition to that, the late Government incurred liabilities last year, including the £850,000 for the dock and other loan moneys, to the extent of £2,200,000. Let that be distinctly understood. We have had all this gibing about loan moneys to-night, but last year the late Government spent loan moneys for the purchase of land for a post-office at Perth. Last year they spent loan moneys for the purchase of sites in London for the High Commissioner’s office and the Commonwealth Building. They also spent loan money to buy land for the Federal Capital, and also to buy machinery, some of it old and obsolete, in the dock in Sydney, which will have to be replaced at the earliest possible moment.
– That is not correct.
– What is not correct ?
– We took the whole thing over as transferred property.
– Does the right honorable member say that that is not a debt ? If it is not,what is it ? I should correct myself, because we have not taken it over yet. That is one of the things we have to do. The obligation is there. But, as a matter of fact, we have not yet settled the terms on which that property is to be taken over.
– The honorable gentleman need not fear. The States Governments will relieve him of it.
– The AttorneyGeneral is considering the terms now. May I remind the right honorable member that out of the £850,000 less than £150,000 represents land, and the balance represents equipment and machinery, some of which, as we have seen, is old or obsolete, and must be replaced almost immediately. This is a loan obligation which the late Government incurred, and it does not lie in their mouths therefore to taunt anybody with proposing to borrow money.
– Does the honorable gentleman claim that the late Government paid more than its value for the property referred to?
– That is quite irrelevant to the matter with which I am dealing.
– The honorable gentleman has said that the machinery is obsolete.
– I am not here to say whether too much or too little has been paid for it.
While we are on this matter, I may as well indicate another point with respect to Garden Island. That is another property, which is to come over for the purposes of our Navy. There is also Admiralty House. We found when we took office that arrangements had been made for a valuation of these properties, which were to cost, I think, about £650,000. This was to be another of the transferred properties, and I should like to tell my honorable friends opposite that I am contesting the whole claim, and I think that when all is over, it will be found that we have succeeded. I venture to say that if the late Government had remained in power that £650,000 of property would have been taken over. So much for their great financing, and their great ability in dealing with financial matters. There is the fact that these obligations represent perishable things. There is only a little land included in the total, and the rest is for machinery and equipment of various kinds.
– Who is making the claim for Garden Island?
– The Government of New South Wales; and for the Admiralty House, too.
– They cannot compel us to deal with them, can they?
– The late Government never contested the claim.
– Because they were not going to pay. They were going to owe.
– Exactly ; that is the word - “ owe.” They arranged to pay interest, and then they said, “ There is no loan because this is transferred property.” The interest is provided for on the Estimates, and I should like to remind honorable members that the Estimates show that we have already a Commonwealth debt of over £7,000,000, and that £2,850,000 of our present indebtedness was incurred by our predecessors. Then they gibe at other people for borrowing, and for presuming to float a loan for any purpose. I say that our loans arefor the same purposes as theirs. Our loans are to be for the purchase of land, which is always a good asset, and of equipment of various kinds, just as their loans were floated. Everything is right when they are in office; but the same things suddenly become wrong when they are out of office. The same transactions based on the same principles, and involving, in some cases, the same amounts, are right when they do them, and wrong when they are done by the party on this side. The total commitments of the late Government for their last year amounted to £24,815,000, notwithstanding the fact that they anticipated they would receive a revenue of only £20,422,000. Last year they proposed to spend over £4,500,000 more than they had revenue coming in to meet. Does it lie in their mouths, therefore, to taunt us for doing the same thing this year?
– Yes, of course, it does, because the honorable gentleman said that he would not do it.
– There is another point to be considered.
– The honorable gentleman will not consider the last point.
– There is nothing in it.
– Laying underground wires with borrowed money is what the honorable gentleman is doing.
– Order ! I call the honorable member for Gwydir to order.
– For us to lay underground wires in new conduits, and pay for the work out of loans is wrong; whilst for them to pay for old boilers out of loans is right. There is the distinction my honorable friends make.
– We know the honorable gentleman is good at laying underground wires.
– Order ! I ask the honorable member for Gwydir not to interject, and he takes no notice. I do not wish to have to proceed to extremes.
– As I said last night, the increase of expenditure must always be a relative matter. Any country that is progressive must increase its expenditure from time to time to meet growing services. That goes without saying.
– The honorable gentleman never said that on the platform six mouths ago.
– I said it before, and I say it now. I say that these growing and inescapable obligations make it imperative that business methods shall be applied to our national expenditures. I say, further, that we cannot apply businessmethods to them, because we lack the statutory power to do so. I say here quite frankly to the country that, notwithstanding what my friends opposite may say, in my opinion, there is extravagance going on in the Public Departments to-day. I should like the statutory power to enable me to set loose upon some of the Departments those who could sift the matter, and find out what and where this extravagance is.
– Let the honorable gentleman go right ahead.
– I know what is meant by the honorable gentleman’s idea of going right ahead. The fact remains that we have no Committee of any kind to investigate these matters. We have no Committee of Public Accounts.
– We will assist you.
– The honorable gentleman assisted us handsomely by securing a count-out when we tried to have appointed a little Supply and Tender Board. “ Go right ahead,” says the honorable member, “ and we will put a sprag in the wheel when you do.” The present Government have been in office for three months, and they have not been able to undertake the inquiry necessary into the methods of Government expenditure which, I admit, is to-day very high, and, in my opinion, will probably turn out to be extravagantly high.
– The Government have been in office nearly four months.
– Yes, they have been in office nearly four months.
– They have not cut down any wages yet; but they will do so.
– There is a specimen of the idle talk that goes on. That is the kind of clap-trap which honorable members opposite talk from every platform in the country, and the moment one meets these statements with a little dose of hard facts, our friends become positive marionettes all round the chamber.
I have stated facts which my honorable friends cannot get over. They are taken from official documents. Here is the fact that last year the Government estimated that they would spend £4,398,000 more than they had revenue coming in to meet, and yet they now hold their skirts in horror when we propose to follow in the same wake this year. We follow in the same wake because we are helpless to do anything else. That is a perfectly frank confession. The late Government have left obligations and commitments, and any Government, having even the statutory power, which we have not, must honour those obligations and commitments.
– The honorable gentleman is making his followers blush.
– Am I? I shall say no more. I do not want to go into an elaborate defence of the Budget. I got up only to lay these ghosts once and for ever in the only way in which they can be laid effectively. I hope that we shall hear no more about it. The right honorable gentleman himself said that at the end of the year he would not have a penny out of the twenty odd million pounds extra that he had received. That is his statement with his own signature underneath it, and that is the statement which I quoted all over Australia. ‘
– Did he have a penny at the end of the year?
– Of course, he did, but it was owing to his splendid financing in being at sea in all his estimates. He did not spend by £1,000,000 the amount which he estimated he would spend, and kindly skies, and a prolific and fertile country, gave him £1,300,000 or £1,400,000 more revenue than he estimated he would receive. No thanks to him surely. Of course, I remember that honorable members opposite are in league with Providence. They have said so.
– Who said so?
– Has the Prime Minister had a word with Providence on that point ?
– It does not look like it, because the revenue is already beginning to slump.
– So it ought to when the Government give up a sum of £158,000.
– We have not collected that £158,000 yet, and the honorable member will be delighted if we cannot get a penny of it.
– Do not think that for a moment.
– The honorable member is frightened to death that we are going to collect it, but we shall collect it if his confreres in another place do not prevent us from doing so.
– They will not stop the Prime Minister.
– Then we shall get the money, and all this talk will be shown to be so much flapdoodle, so that the honorable member for Yarra will not have a feather to fly with. He will not have anything more to say when we have collected that money.
– He is disgusted that the Government missed it when they had a chance to collect it.
– Because we were foolish enough to honour the agreement which was made by the honorable member’s own leader. We stood up to that agreement honestly.
– Order ! I cannot allow the honorable member for Gwydir to constantly interrupt in that way. It is most improper.
– The Prime Minister looks directly at me.
– And I cannot allow the honorable member to reply to me.
– I sincerely hope that before the year has run out we may get the same luck that the Leader of the Opposition had in regard to the revenue of the country. It may happen that we shall not be able to spend the whole of the money which we anticipate spending upon these Estimates. In connexion with a sum of £15,000,000 er £16,000,000, it is hardly possible to spend the whole of it within the year. No matter how perfect our machinery may be, it is almost impossible that there should not be a surplus unexpended at the end of the year. If only the revenue is as kind to us as it was to my right honorable friend, we, too, shall have a surplus of £2,250,000 at the end of the financial year, But that is nothing for anybody to take credit for. We make our Estimates, and we shall endeavour to spend the money which is set out in them. The right honorable member for Wide Bay made his Estimates. He estimated that at the end of the year he would not have a penny. I .want to repeat that statement. He estimated that at the end of the year he would not have a farthing - not one-eighth or one-sixteenth of a farthing - notwithstanding that he had received over £20,000,000 more than his predecessors in office. Therefore, I was justified in taking that page of the Estimates over his signature, and telling the people of this country that these rolling millions had all been spent, and that he would have spent more if he had had it. That is a perfectly true statement to make, and it should not have caused all this pother in the mind of the right honorable gentleman. It was a simple statement of hard fact - a mere quotation from his own Estimates. I shall not pursue this matter further. I should like to get on with the consideration of the Works Estimates. They are urgent. Three months of the year have already gone, and it has always been customary to deal with the Works Estimates, and to leave the Budget debate for a subsequent occasion.
– Does the Prime Minister expect his remarks to go without a reply ?
– I do not care whether they go without a reply or not. I am merely suggesting what has been done on previous occasions. All I ask is that we may speedily get to the consideration of the Works Estimates. I had not intended to speak at all this evening but for the attack of the right honorable member for Wide Bay. He is constantly impugning my veracity, and I thought it well to lay this ghost by quoting his own statements. Really there is a limit to human endurance in these matters. I stand by all I said-
– Unfortunately, the honorable gentleman will not stand by what lie is reported to have said.
– Does the honorable member stand by all that he is reported to have said ?
– I never complain of the newspapers misreporting me. As a matter of fact, they do not insert statements of mine.
– Do they not? They inserted a lot of statements by the honor ible member in connexion with the last elections - statements which he wrote, too.
– The Prime Minister had to apologize for misstatements which he made.
– I am quite unaware of it.
– I have got the honorable gentleman’s letter.
– And the honorable member wrote a misstatement deliberately. I made no statement at Port Pirie which was not in accordance with, facts.
– The honorable gentleman deliberately misrepresented me, and then endeavoured to escape.
– I indulged in no misrepresentation.- My statements are on record, and the facts are there. The honorable member deliberately misrepresented the whole of the facts of the case over his own signature.
– The Prime Minister’s statement is wilfully and maliciously incorrect.
– I thank the honorable member. That is the usual thing for him to say. His interjection is the best of all proof that I made a truth ful statement. However, the facts are on record. I have only been anxious to clear up these matters. I admit that the Estimates are high. I should like to see them lower; and I believe that a searching investigation into the Departments, with the requisite backing of statutory power, would reveal that they could be lowered without decreasing by one scintilla the efficiency Of the machinery of government. But until we get the power to make that inquiry, and set committees to work, and until we inaugurate a different method of carrying out our public works generally, the expenditure must continue to be high.
– I desire to make a personal explanation. I take it that the Prime Minister wishes to deal with facts. On the 31st March, 1913, I delivered my policy speech at Maryborough, which is fully reported in the newspapers, and in which I used these words -
It is now almost certain that the revenue of the year will suffice for the expenditure, and that the surplus of £2,261,541 will remain intact on June 30 next.
Now, the Prime Minister is reported in the Sydney Daily Telegraph to have addressed a public meeting on 28th April last - a month after I had delivered my policy speech. In his opening remarks he is reported to have said that there was “ a nip in the political atmosphere on this occasion.” The report proceeds -
Mr. Cook went on to refer to the rolling seasons and the Government expenditure. “ They have,” he said, “ spent every penny of revenue as it came in, and every penny more that they could lav hands on, and you have £8 to £10 per family more taxes than were paid three years ago, not through an increase of rates, but an increase in yields.”
There is my authority for the statement which I made to-night. He repeated his allegation at Ballarat three months later.
– I desire to make a personal explanation. The speech which the right honorable member for Wide Bay has just quoted relates to these Estimates.
– After the honorable gentleman had had my statement.
– To be quite candid, I do not recollect having read the honorable member’s statement.
– Hear, hear.
– Reckless again.
– My statements all through have been based upon these Estimates.
– The Prime Minister made that statement to deceive the country.
– He never read my policy speech.
– The Prime Minister made a statement at the end of last session. Everybody knows that.
– I know what statement was made, and what statement was not made. The trouble is that the right honorable member for Wide Bay did not quote all I said. He only quoted one sentence.’ He can quote many speeches in which I said that his Estimates were modified through no financial ability on his part, but owing to an increase in the revenue, and a decrease in the expenditure. He takes care not to quote that statement.
– I will quote every statement that the honorable gentleman cares to show me.
– It is too ridiculous.
– I wish, before dealing with the general question, to make a personal explanation. The Prime Minister has charged me with having made a misstatement over my own signature, and some warm exchanges passed between us when he did so. He refers to a remark which he is reported to have made at Port Pirie, in South Australia - my old home.
– I am going to bowl this out if I can get the newspaper.
– -The honorable gentleman is reported to have said that, in spite of my warm approval of the referenda proposals at the last election, I had opposed them at the Hobart Labour Conference in January of last year. That statement was reported in two newspapers which, support the Prime Minister in matters political. When I read it I wrote to him, and suggested that, in the circumstances, there must be a mistake, and I asked him to kindly write me anent the matter. I received a letter from him to the effect that he had been misreported.
– There is just one word wrong, that is all.
– But what he was referring to when he said I opposed the referendums was my statement in respect to the referendum and the initiative, another proposal entirely.
– In the Hobart Conference, which I quoted.
– What the honorable gentleman then put in as being his statement, was entirely different, of course, from what was reported as said by him.
He left, even in his letter to me, a wrong impression. There was no proposal before the Hobart Conference that the initiative and referendum should be either inserted or taken out of the platform, and consequently the principle of the initiative and referendum was not at issue there. What was before the Hobart Conference was a motion affirming that the initiative and referendum should be taken out of the general platform, ,and placed in the fighting platform.
– Does my honorable friend say that that was all that he discussed in the conference? Let him be straight over the matter, if he can.
– I opposed the taking of the initiative and referendum plank from the general platform to place it in the fighting platform, and pointed out the reason for my opposition, namely, that, in my opinion, the referendum was a most conservative weapon, and had been proved to be so, here and in other countries.
– Now the honorable member has answered himself.
– That was all that happened; yet the honorable gentleman has the audacity to assert that I wrote a misstatement, putting it over my signature.
– The honorable member did not write what he has just now said.
– The Prime Minister has my letter.
– I am going to quote it.
– The honorable gentleman can quote it whenever he likes to do so. I take this opportunity to offer a few words in reply to remarks to which the Prime Minister has favoured us during the past three:quarters of an hour. It is not the first time that we have had similar utterances from him, nor the first time that he has done his best to cloud the financial issue, and to gain party kudos by statements of a doubtful character. It is not the first time that he has denied reports that have appeared in his own party newspapers, and when confronted with them here has attempted to give them an entirely different complexion.
– It is not a matter of denying reports, but of denying the twists that honorable members give to them.
– On this occasion the Prime Minister rests the strength of his argument on what he alleges to have been the estimates, or the intentions, of the Fisher Administration at the commencement of the financial year 1912-13. Throughout the course of his remarks he said that he had stated on twenty different platforms that at the start of that year the Fisher Administration had estimated to receive over £21,000,000, and to expend about £4,000,000 more than that sum. Of course, we. have to accept the honorable member’s denials in this House, but, unfortunately for him, the statement that was published in all his party newspapers was, not that the Fisher Administration had estimated to do that, but that they had done that - a very different position of affairs. He says now that his assertion was that the Fisher Administration intended to do certain things; that they were going to receive £21,000,000, and to expend about £4,000,000 more. But the newspapers - not Labour newspapers, but newspapers in which his remarks appear carefully sub-edited, so that they may be placed before the public in the most favorable light for him, and be as unfavorable as possible to the Labour party - made him say that the Fisher Administration had done certain things, namely, that they had spent every penny of revenue and every penny that they could lay their hands on. Naturally, that statement caused indignation on the part of the late Treasurer, who knew it to be inaccurate. The Prime Minister, confronted by members who know as much about the subject as he does, though perhaps not so well acquainted with certain methods, has had to shift his ground, and to say that he was dealing with estimates,’ not with actualities. The Fisher Administration did not spend every penny they could lay their hands on. Not only was the statement to which objection has been taken made by the Prime Minister, but it was repeated by his supporters. Not being so well acquainted with the facts as lie was, they took it for granted that what lie said was correct, and repeated his statements throughout the Commonwealth. The statement was incorrect, and ought not to have been made. There is not a scintilla of justification for it.
– It is absolutely correct. Here is the proof of it.
– The Prime Minister has no proof of it. Could one imagine greater audacity? The honorable gentle man asserts that in the document which he has waved, the Estimates for 1912-13, there is something to prove or justify a statement to the effect that the Fisher Administration, during that year, spent every penny that they could lay their hands upon ! Let us for a moment forget party politics and the gaining of kudos. I ask the honorable member now to say in all sincerity whether there is in that document a word, a figure, a line, or a letter to support his incorrect statement? We have an illustration at the present moment of the treatment to which honorable members on this side are “subjected. It cannot be repeated too often that there is no justification in the document that he waved for the statement that he made. When challenged here in this chamber to say “ Yes,” or “ No,” as to the correctness of’ the newspaper reports, the honorable gentleman remains mute. If he said anything, he would expose himself as having attempted, by methods that, fortunately, few people adopt, to do injury to those whose only offence - if it can be called an offence - is to differ from bini on political matters. One other subject. It is alleged that we have taunted the other side with indulging in loan expenditure. That statement was replied to yesterday, but it has to be replied to again to-day. While we may put our reply into the official record of the debates, that record is read only by comparatively few persons, whereas the statements of the Prime Minister and his supporters are published in the newspapers, and go forth to be read by scores of thousands of persons, honorable members on this side not being credited witu what they say in reply. There has been no taunting in respect to indulging in loan expenditure. How could there be with any show of reason or honesty? The whole of the public of the Commonwealth know full well that last year the Fisher Administration spent loan moneys. They spent money which they borrowed from Trust Funds. Yesterday, when speaking on the preliminary resolution dealing with the’ introduction of the Loan Bill, I pointed out as clearly as I was able- and the Prime Minister understood every word of it - that no exception would be taken to borrowing if that borrowing were confined to the same methods as were adopted last year ; that is, if the borrowing were confined to the Australian Notes Fund and to Trust
Funds, but that exception would be taken if the borrowing were done on’ the open market, because if that policy were to be instituted, it would be for the first time in the history of the Commonwealth. Exception was taken to borrowing money for particular purposes, but not necessarily to borrowing money in general. As indicated in the Budget speech, the present Administration intend to borrow money to construct certain telegraphic and telephonic works, and in so doing they are starting an entirely new policy; for during the past twelve years that class of work has been done out of revenue, and thus has been free from the necessity of paying interest. That was the policy carried on by the past Administration, and, had they been privileged to remain on . the Treasury bench, it was their intention to continue it; but the present Ministers have adopted an entirely new proposition. It is to that new form of expending borrowed money that exception is taken, and not, as was asserted by the Prime Minister a few minutes ago, to the Government generally for borrowing. It depends on what they intend to borrow the money for. Certainly we did take exception three years ago to their attempt to borrow for the purpose of building a Fleet, and, fortunately, the people of the Commonwealth took exception to it, and that) particular attempt to borrow was checked. Again, when the present Treasurer was in the Barton-Turner Ministry, his Government unsuccessfully attempted to start the principle of borrowing on the open market. The Labour party were unanimous in their opposition to that policy. The present proposal marks the third occasion on which Fusionists, or Liberals, have attempted to indulge in borrowing, and, presumably, on this occasion, on the outside market, because we have the indication from the Treasurer that, if the Trust Funds are not sufficient, he may go elsewhere to get the money. On the two previous occasions they were checked, first by Parliament, and subsequently by the people; and if, on this occasion, Parliament is not sufficiently strong to check them, I sincerely hope it will not be long, despite the, gibes of their party’ newspapers, before we go to the country again, and get another mandate from the people as to whether these works are to be constructed out of loan moneys - whether we are to become a seventh borrower from Australia on the open money market - -and, in particular, whether we are to take over the State debts in the manner suggested by the Treasurer, which, after all, amounts in a large degree to a gamble. We are to allow the States to continue borrowing without limit, and we are to accept the whole of the responsibility for the debts incurred up to the present. However, I fear me it is merely a kite.
– No; I am in deadly earnest.
– In the circumstances I do not propose to deal at length with that point I wish to return to the opening remarks of the Prime Minister. First of all, he admitted that there was a deficit when his Government left office a little over three years ago, and that there was a surplus when the Fisher Administration left office three and a half months ago, and then he sought to belittle the Fisher Administration by references of a general character. Let me put some bare facts before honorable members. When the first Fisher Administration were rejected by the Fusion party, they left a surplus of over £600,000. The Fusion Government were in office about eleven months, and they left a deficit of £450,000.
– Yes, that is right, for old-age pensions.
– They were in office eleven months, ‘ and during that period they spent over £100,000 per month more than they received, and the fact that they left with a deficit of £450,000 is minimized by alleging, first, that they made an arrangement with the States, so that £14,000,000 should come into the Commonwealth revenue during the succeeding three years, and secondly, that it was essential to have a deficit in order to provide for old-age pensions - one of the most specious statements that could possibly be made. Knowing the popularity of the old-age pensions, to providing the money for which at first a large number of the Fusionists were in bitter opposition
– You will say anything.
– The division is on record where honorable members voted against the Surplus Revenue Bill which was to provide the money for old-age pensions. However, I shall not go too far back; I shall confine my remarks to the speech of the Prime Minister. Knowing the popularity of old-age pensions, the Fusionists assert that they created a deficit to provide for the payment of the pensions, and they claim that we are to be satisfied because they made a provision with the States that would bring in £3,000,000 of revenue to the Commonwealth in the succeeding year. Was that provision made with the States to bring in £3,000.000 for 1910-11 because the money was not wanted ? Was ‘ it made merely for the fun of the thing, so that there should be that amount of surplus in the Commonwealth revenue? Or was it made because the Ministers of the day knew that the money would be required ? Necessarily, they knew it would be required. The then Fusion Ministry had, in conjunction with the State Governments, in a secret Caucus - not one word of the proceedings of which has ever been allowed to transpire to the public - come to a particular arrangement by which the Braddon section should be practically annulled, and that in future, instead of paying back to the States three-fourths of the net Customs and Excise revenue, the Commonwealth should pay back to them only 25s. per head of the population. That meant, of course, that the Commonwealth revenue would be largely increased ; and, believing, as they did then, that they would remain in office, they had some object in increasing the revenue because they intended to expend it. Fortunately, the people ejected them from office, and the Labour Administration came in. All they did was to meet the expenditure then necessary to provide for the ordinary obligations of the Commonwealth out of the revenue that they were then receiving. Where is the reason for objection, for cavilling, for complaining? Where is the reason for the talk indulged in about our colossal expenditure? Those gentlemen made provision, so they say, with the money coming in, for the obligations of the Commonwealth to be met in an honorable and proper way, and the money was expended by the Labour Government in such a way that, in this House, at any rate, not one fault could be found. During the whole of the three years, there is on record scarcely a division of any description called for by the party opposite against any item of expenditure. They approved of the expenditure in each year. They approved, practically, of every penny that was expended ; and yet, during every election, and subsequently, the Prime Minister, and others of his side, have been going up and down the country asserting that a colossal expenditure was indulged in, and insinuating that there was something radically wrong with the finances.
– Did you ever make, on the platform, such a nice, lucid statement as you have now made in the House, to show how the Liberal party had made provision in advance for your Government getting those extra millions to expend?
– Yes; I did my very best to make it clear to them and what it meant, and to show them that we should have more money to spend in the Commonwealth. The result was shown at the elections, because the people, knowing that there would be so many millions more to spend, put the right party in to spend them. This shows that the people thoroughly understood the question. We took serious exception to the secrecy of the Caucus; and, while we had no objection to the 25s. per head being paid back to the States, we seriously objected to putting that in the Constitution, and the people took the same view. I see no reason for the Prime Minister’s loud denunciations of our expenditure, when he now admits that he made the arrangement by which the money was obtained. He made it because it was essential that the money should be expended. It was not expended in any direction of which he could complain, for, during the three years, there is not on record one serious objection to our expenditure. The diatribes indulged in at the elections, and the insinuations about something of a character which could not be very well explained, but which would necessitate very grave caution on the part of the people, were unjustified. They ought never to have been made, and would not have been made had party politics in a certain direction been more clean, clear, and upright. The Prime Minister tried to deal with what we proposed to do in a particular year, and actually asserted that, at the end of the year, there was a deficit of £1,100,000. Note the curious cunning of that statement, which leaves in the minds of the public an altogether erroneous impression. The honorable member did not explain that he meant merely the end of the calendar year and not the end of the financial year. He showed that there was a deficit in the finances of the Fisher Administration during its first year of office, not by taking one complete year, but by cutting a year in two. That is a mere policy of paltry juggling with figures.
– You evidently did not understand the explanation, or you would not talk in that way.
– Does the honorable member assert that there was a deficit in the finances in the first year of the Fisher Administration ?
– I said that a deficit of £450,000 had increased to £1,100,000 by the end of the same year.
– By the end of the calendar year?
– Yes. I showed that in six months your Government had increased the deficit by £650,000.
– It was unfair to say that by the end of the year the deficit had increased by £650,000. One would think that the end of the financial year was meant.
– I did not say so.
– The honorable member did not dare say it; but the impression left on the minds of the people will be that there was a deficit of £1,100,000 at the end of the financial year. The honorable member is not justified in cutting the financial year in half in order to juggle with the finances of the Commonwealth.
– I used the words “ six months.”
– No Administration should be criticised in such a way; the whole financial year should be taken.
– I rise to order. I submit that the honorable member must accept my statement, and not repeat a statement which I never made. I have denied it several times, and a well-known rule of the House is that an honorable member accepts another honorable member’s correction when he makes it.
– If the Prime Minister has called the attention of the honorable member for Adelaide to an incorrect statement, I am sure the honorable member will accept the -Prime Minister’s explanation.
– That is another clever, cute interruption. I have not refused to accept the honorable member’s statement. I am at a loss to understand the mental condition of the Prime Minister. I am glad I have drawn from him .the fuller statement that he referred to the calendar year. I understood him to refer to that. And because I object to a reference “of that description, which is neither fair nor warranted-
– Why do you not quote what I said? It is perfectly plain.
– The honorable gentleman said that at the end of the year there was a deficit of £1,100,000. That is chopping our financial year in two for the. purpose of creating an impression which ought not to be created. Mr. Joseph Cook. - I say that I said no such thing.
– Do you give it up now? Mr. ROBERTS. - No, because we have this sort, of thing regularly.
– We do get it regularly from the honorable member, who never does state a case properly.
– Let me try again. At the end of the year the honorable gentleman said there was a deficit of £1,100,000, or an increase of £650,000 over what we inherited. ‘
– That was in the first six months, and in the succeeding six months you liquidated it by withdrawing the money from the States.
– If the honorable gentleman prefers the statement “ in six months “ instead of “at the end of the year,” we will accept it as such, and I say again to the honorable gentleman, what he himself knows, that it is an entirely unfair method of debate and of assertion. In the case of many businesses there are times, say, in the middle of a month, or a quarter, when there is an overdraft. But when the balance-sheet is made out the situation is entirely different, and the man at the head of a business or a corporation, just as in the case of a country, must finance accordingly, knowing precisely what the situation will be. Does the honorable gentleman mean to say that it would be fair for me to take an ordinary business firm which to-day may have an overdraft, because that is the course of regular business, and say that the firm is insolvent ? Practically that is what the statement of the Treasurer amounted to - that there was something wrong. What we pointed out was that at the end of the year when i.he Fusion party went out of office - practically within two months of the end of the financial year - they left a deficit of £450,000, and it was being increased every month. The Prime Minister desires to cut a year in half in order to create an impression which ought not to be created. At the end of the first year that the Fisher Administration was in’ office there was -a surplus; some millions more had been expended, in that year than in the previous year, and the extra millions came in because of an arrangement with the States. During the last elections, what were the statements made broadcast? That we had these extra millions of money by depriving the States of them. That was the regular assertion until persons began to believe that the Fisher Administration had, during the three years, spent £18,000,000 more than they ought to have done by robbing the States. Some honorable members on the other side actually used the word “ rob.” There was no taking or robbing from the States, but .merely the expending of the additional revenue which came to the Commonwealth as a result of the financial arrangement unanimously agreed to by all the State Governments and fixed lip by the Fusion Administration. At the recent elections, the Fusion party implied that they were going to indulge in a policy of economy. There was no direct statement to that effect, but the innuendoes in reference to the great expenditure previously indulged in led the public to believe that some sort of saving was to be effected. When our honorable friends have full control of the finances, they bring in a Budget, and we find that they intend, not only to spend the money they receive, the surplus that was left by the previous Administration, and so much of loan money, but to expend this year a total sum of £27,200,000, or some million pounds more than was expended last year by the Fisher Administration. Then we have the lame, impotent, deplorable statement coming from every honorable gentleman on the other side, that this expenditure is due to the commitments that we made, and that they cannot get out of the difficulty.
– Is there one item which you would expunge or reduce?
– I asked that question of the honorable member for Parramatta six months ago, when he was denouncing the heavy expenditure of the Fisher Administration. When he, from every platform, referred to “ this carnival of expenditure)” when the Treasurer talked of “ this financial debauch,” when the Attorney-General spoke of “ this torrential expenditure,” I asked them that question repeatedly.
– This is a Parliament, not a theatre.
– I thank the honorable gentleman for the intended insult. When our honorable friends opposite were making these statements before the electors, I asked them that question repeatedly from every platform. Of course, while their statements could get into thousands of newspapers, the self-same journals deliberately suppressed what was said by Labour men, and when they did not suppress they distorted. They complained then about what they alleged to be “torrential” expenditure, and I asked, “ Which item will you cut down if you get the opportunity? “ They were as dumb as it’ was possible for human beings to be. They would not answer my question. It would not have paid them to answer me. They were deceiving the electors.
– You answer it now.
– Will they blame me if I follow the example which they set four or five months ago ? Certainly not. They scarcely dare do that, though there is little that they will not dare do. Their statements led the public to believe that some sort of economy, was to be practised ; that the ‘ finances were going to be straightened because, of the allegation that they were not straight. Now that they have complete control, and can do just as they like, have they proposed to cut down the expenditure in any direction? Is there one item on which they propose to do that? Not one. They have increased the total expenditure. They propose to expend £27,200,000 this year. They have not the courage to come forward and say that the expenditure is justifiable; that, no matter what Ministry might occupy the Treasury bench, they would have to incur the expenditure. They have not the courage to say that that is their policy, and that they intend to pursue it. But they seek to get behind a screen by saying that they are only incurring this expenditure because they are committed to it by the previous Administration. Only yesterday, they brought forward a proposal to commit the Commonwealth to the expenditure of another £400,000 to which it waa not committed by the previous Administration - an expenditure which they said, only on the 12th August, in the Senate, they would not undertake. The interval between that date and the 10th October has provided ample time for honorable gentlemen opposite to change their minds, and now they propose to commit the country to that additional expenditure. In the Estimates there are other lines with which we shall deal when they come before us in detail, showing clearly that these commitments have not been made by a previous Government, but are undertaken by the present Government of their own volition. But, quite apart from that, they do propose an expenditure to which they are not committed, and in which there is no necessity for them to indulge, if it be not their policy. Why have they not the courage to tell the public that it is their policy, that they intend to spend the money, and that all their statements to the electors during the recent campaign in respect to “ torrential “ and other expenditure were false, misleading, and unjustifiable, and ought never to have been made? That would be an open, upright, and honorable course, but apparently it is not to be taken. The Prime Minister said that we took over the Cockatoo Island Dock; so we did. He is careful not to say that he disagrees with that act. I challenge him now to say that he does not approve of the policy.
– I say that it was a dishonorable thing to do after promising this Parliament that you would consult it first.
– The honorable gentleman does not dare say that he disagrees with the policy. He dare not say that the amount agreed to be paid for that property is one penny too high. He will throw gibes at us about old boilers, since he thinks that such statements will remain in the minds of some of the people, and he is prepared to talk about obsolete machinery, although he knows that he is misrepresenting the position in doing so, because the condition of all the machinery was taken into account in determining the amount to be paid. These statements about old boilers, however, will remain in some minds, just as when you strike a man ou the point he will remember it. The
Prime Minister is a pastmaster in the art of making insinuations that will remain in the public mind, and serve to overcloud the real issue. The true issue in this case is whether he disagrees with the taking over of the Cockatoo Island Dock. The Prime Minister dare not say that he disagrees with it, and he dare not say that we promised to pay for the property a penny more than ought to be paid for it. Those, after all, are the two chief factors to be considered, rather than the question of whether any one boiler in use at the dock is ten years or twenty years old. The Prime Minister, however, prefers to deal with comparatively trifling items, knowing that he can in that way mislead some of the public. The Cockatoo Island Dock was taken over in conformity with our naval policy, which, I am afraid, is now in very bad hands from a truly Australian point of view. The dock was taken over at a valuation made by independent and competent men. The individual members of the late Ministry had nothing whatever to do with the matter, and had the dock been taken over whilst honorable members opposite were in office, there is no doubt that the valuation would have been made by these self-same gentlemen, against whose honour and integrity there is not even a breath of suspicion. It was necessary to take it over, and we took it over because we were a Ministry of action rather than a Ministry of mere promises or misrepresentation. We believed honestly and conscientiously in the establishment of an Australian Navy which should form an integral part of the Imperial Navy should the necessity arise for their working together. I fear, however, that that policy is not to be pursued. There are indications of a regrettable character which point to that conclusion. Returning to the question of commitments, I would remind the Committee that while the Government propose to expend money on the Naval Bases at Cockburn Sound and Westernport, they are not committed to that expenditure. The Prime Minister will not say that they are. He knows that these works need not be carried on by them if they are not in accordance with their policy. As a matter of fact, for some peculiar reason the present Government have stopped the expenditure on the Naval Base at Cockburn Sound. This proves conclusively that so far as the works there are concerned, their statement about being committed to them is false and inaccurate. Here may I point out that we are told that they have stopped the expenditure at Cockburn Sound because they wish first of all to obtain the opinion of an expert as to what should be done there. It seems singular that this expert is to report upon the proposed Naval Base at Cockburn Sound, and also at Westernport, but that, whereas the works at Cockburn Sound have been discontinued, those at Westernport are still being carried on.
– The Fisher Government only began the expenditure at Cockburn Sound just about election time.
– That statement is inaccurate. The work was undertaken at the earliest possible moment, and the few men engaged there could have had no effect upon the elections.
– There were never more than 180 men employed there.
– The honorable member for Fremantle, who naturally takes an interest in this question, has had the Ministry quite recently on the horns of a dilemma. They cannot explain why they have stopped the works at Cockburn Sound, whilst at the same time they are continuing operations at Westernport. They cannot explain why the expert who is coming out is not to be allowed a free hand in the case of the Westernport Naval Base, just as he is to have a free hand in regard to the Naval Base at Cockburn Sound. Is it that the Ministry dare not stop the works at Westernport?
– Does the honorable member wish them to be stopped?
– No ; and I do not desire that the works at Cockburn Sound shall be stopped.
– The honorable member knows nothing about the matter.
– It may transpire before long that the right honorable member knows a little too much about it.
– I know a good deal more than any one else in this House knows about Cockburn Sound.
– Let the right honorable member be careful, for there is an instance in the State records of his having stopped expenditure in a particular direction because it did not please him, notwithstanding that an expert of undoubted knowledge and ability had reported in a certain direction. Perhaps in the circumstances we can appreciate more fully now the statement of the Prime Min ister that the expert is coming out to do what they “ want him to do.” They say that they will be guided by his report. If they are to be guided by his report as to the suitability of Cockburn Sound for a Naval Base, why should they not be guided by his report regarding Westernport ? We shall deal with this matter more lengthily, however, when the items come before us.
– It is a disgraceful statement.
– I shall deal with the matter now if the right honorable member will cease grumbling. He invariably grumbles when these matters are brought forward. I note his mental attitude in respect of Cockburn Sound, and intend to watch it very carefully. I have referred to this matter only to show that, so far as the Naval Base at Cockburn Sound is concerned, we have not committed the present Government to any expenditure, as shown by the fact that they have actually stopped the expenditure there. We shall find that the position is the same in regard to scores of other items - that if the Government disapprove of them, they need not indulge in the particular expenditure relating to them, but they are going to do so, and I fear that they may land us in financial chaos unless the devout wish of the Prime Minister that Providence will be as good to them as He was to the previous Administration is realized. I do not know whether Providence differentiates between Administrations, but certainly the revenue does not seem to be coming in as rapidly as it came in last year. I sincerely hope, however, that the revenue will continue to come in freely, and that the Government will not be embarrassed as long as they remain in office. I trust that we shall always be able to meet the just and ever-increasing obligations of the Commonwealth. I deplore, however, what was done at the recent elections, and the attempt by the Prime Minister to-night to cloud the real issue - to make it appear that there was something wrong with the finances during the last three years, when he knows that there was not, and that every penny of expenditure the late Government indulged in was justifiable. The honorable gentleman did not complain of one penny of that expenditure, but he did seek to leave a false impression on the minds of the public. I shall have an opportunity to deal further with the finances when the Estimates for the several Departments come before us. What is said on this side may not have much effect on honorable gentlemen opposite; but we shall at least be able to place the position clearly before the community. I say that when the first Fisher Administration left office they left a surplus of £650,000. The Fusion Government then held office for eleven months, and left a deficit of £450,000, and in each of the three succeeding years during which the second Fisher Administration remained in office there was a surplus, and when they left office three and a half months ago they left a surplus amounting to £2,652,000. Further, I say that, at the beginning of the financial year 1912-13, when it is said that the then Treasurer proposed to spend more than he received, it must be remembered that he proposed to spend the surplus he had himself accumulated. Owing to the promise at the outset of a lean year, in order that there might be continuity of construction of the Navy, and the other defence proposals, and continuity of expenditure upon telegraphs, telephones, and post-offices, it was reasonable that the Government should spend the surplus they had accumulated. That is what they proposed to do.
– That reminds me that the statement was frequently made during the elections that the late Government paid for the Fleet as well as leaving a surplus.
– So we did. We paid over £3,000,000.
– There is over £1,000,000 on the Estimates this year for the Fleet.
– We proposed to expend, during a year which at the outset promised to be lean, the surplus we had accumulated during the good years. Fortunately, the revenue came in in sufficient volume to obviate the necessity of spending the surplus, and we left it in the Treasury for the present Government. We did not, as alleged by the Prime Minister, spend every penny we could get our hands upon. I come now to the last statement of the Prime Minister. He has said that during the elections statements were made to the effect that the Fleet was paid for. He seeks to deny that, and says that, on this year’s Estimates, the Government have provided for an expenditure of over £1,000,000 more upon the Fleet. Why does not the honorable gentleman make a full statement?
Why does he not say that there is in the Trust Fund over £1,000,000 to meet the expenditure on the Fleet?
– Because the money is not there.
– There is sufficient in the Trust Fund to meet the obligation.
– There is not.
– I think there is only £702,000 in the Trust Fund.
– I do not know what is there now; but when the late Government left office there was sufficient money in the Trust Fund to meet the expenditure on the Fleet for this year.
– The honorable gentleman is entirely wrong.
– The construction was delayed, and the money was not paid. We paid about £3,000,000.
– There is over £1,000,000 yet to be paid on the Fleet.
– Then the expenditure was greater than £3,500,000.
– No; we have not spent £3,500,000 on the Fleet yet.
– I know that there is on the Estimates this year a vote of over £1,000,000 for the Fleet. The Treasurer has corrected me by saying that there is in the Trust Fund £702,000 to meet that expenditure. That is a very nice balance to have in hand.
– It is part of the surplus.
– Therefore, the late Government did not pay for the Fleet and leave the surplus.
– The surplus was paid into the Trust Fund to meet the obligations entered into.
– The statement to which I refer was that the late Government left a surplus after paying for the Fleet.
– No; I never saw that statement, and I frankly admit that if it was made, it was incorrect.
– It was made all over Australia.
– I did not see it, and I took a very great interest in what was said during the elections in the different States. What was really stated was that we left so much money in the Treasury, and that to meet the Fleet obligations there was so much money left in the Trust Fund. It is not right of the Prime Minister, in the circumstances, to say that the Government have been called upon to provide over ?1,000,000 for the Fleet this year, without, at the same time, saying that there were so many hundreds of thousands of pounds in the Trust Fund to meet that obligation. That is the full statement which should have been made in the circumstances. I do not propose this evening to touch on the subject of the State debts, and one or two other subjects. It was not my intention to speak at all to-night, and I should not have done so but for the extraordinary statement made by the Prime Minister. The honorable gentleman has, happily, failed once again in the attempt he made. When the State debts proposal comes before us I hope to be permitted to say a few words on what appears to be an attempt to gamble on the increase in the population. The Government’s scheme, if put into force, is calculated to financially embarrass the Commonwealth, as, even at the outset, it proposes to gamble on the increase in the population. I have heard the warning against counting one’s chickens before they are hatched; but the Treasurer is going to count the children before they are born. If he considers that a safe way to finance, the right honorable gentleman is welcome to it.
– I suggest that we finish for to-night, and start with the Works Estimates to-morrow.
– Before we finish I wish to make a personal explanation.I want to clear up the Port Pirie matter, as the honorable member for Adelaide has dragged it in again to-night.
– The honorable gentleman started it.
Mr.Joseph Cook. - I did not start it, and it is time that it was cleared up. The honorable gentleman is acquiring a reputation in this House for making statements that are very inaccurate. His statement was that I purposely misrepresented him at Port Pirie. What I did at Port Pirie was, in speaking of the effect of the Caucus, and the way in which a man had to subordinate his opinions in the Caucus to the Caucus. I quoted this statement of the honorable member for Adelaide at Port Pirie, and I wish the honorable member for the district were present to hear this, because he has often referred to the matter -
Mr. Roberts opposed the motion
That is the motion for the initiative and referendum.
– No, it is not. Now, let the honorable gentleman be accurate.
– The motion was that the initiative and referendum be placed on the fighting platform-
– That is better.
– It related to the initiative and referendum -
Mr. Roberts opposed the motion
Why? The reason was not a reason for shifting the proposal from one platform to the other, because the report continues - as he had come to the conclusion that the referendum was a Conservative weapon.
– The honorable gentleman said so to-night.
– He did say so tonight. Let us see what followed. The honorable gentleman wrote me a letter to say -
You are reported in the Register as having said at Port Pirie, “ Mr. Roberts, at the Hobart Conference, had opposed the referenda principles, but was now boosting them up.”
I did not use that language, and the report from it I quoted was similar to the report in the Port Pirie Labour newspaper. He evidently sent the same report to both newspapers in Adelaide.
– There is no Labour newspaper at Port Pirie.
– There is a newspaper there which favours my honorable friend - I forget the name of it - and it was a Labour man who wrote that report, I believe.
– The Prime Minister “believes”?
– I am told so. Does the honorable member say that it is not so?
– I say that he is not a Labour man, and that it is not a Labour newspaper.
– However, he made the mistake of writing “ referenda “ instead of “ referendum.” That is the distinction. That is the only point on which I was misreported. The honorable member, of course, makes a mouthful of it, as he does of everything. He wrote to me as follows: -
Dear Mr. Cook,
You are reported in the Register as having said at Port Pirie, “ Mr. Roberts at the Hobart Conference had opposed the referenda principles, but was now boosting them up.” It is further reported in the same paper that “you produced an official copy of the proceedings of the Conference, and read the passage which contained Mr. Roberts’ objection.” There must be some serious mistake. I shall, therefore, be glad to hear from you before you leave Adelaide.
To that, I wrote as follows: -
In reply to yours of yesterday’s date, I have to say it is a case of misreporting. The reference was not to the “ referenda,” but to the “ initiative and referendum,” and your remarks reported on page 25 of the official report of the Hobart Conference.
So far so good. I made a mistake in that reply, in that I did not quote what the honorable member said here, because, if I had done so, he could not have written the letter which he did. In the South Australian Register of 26th May last, the honorable member wrote -
A reference to page 25 shows that I did not oppose the item.
He had come to the conclusion that the referendum was a Conservative weapon. Yet he says that he did not oppose the item. Could there be a greater or more deliberate misrepresentation of the facts?
– Order !
– The official report of the Hobart Labour Conference says -
Mr. Roberts opposed the motion, as he had come to the conclusion that the referendum was a Conservative weapon.
The reason given there is a reason against the referendum. He ‘ ‘opposed the motion, as he had come to the conclusion that the referendum was a Conservative weapon.” Is that an argument against the shifting of the motion, or against the principle of the referendum?
– Against the moving of the motion.
– The honorable member “ had come to the conclusion that the referendum was a Conservative weapon “ - in other words, that it was a Conservative principle. He, therefore, was against the referendum. Yet he says distinctly in his letter to the Register -
I did not oppose the item, but merely suggested a re-arrangement of its position upon our platform.
If the honorable member was not opposed to the referendum, seeing that he regarded it as “a Conservative weapon,” I do not understand the meaning of the English language.
– I desire to make a personal explanation. I refuse to remain silent under these misrepre sentations. They are too common. I am familiar with every word that ia contained in the official report of the proceedings of the Hobart Labour Conference. We do .not endeavour to hide what is done in those conferences. They are open to the public. I refuse to remain silent under these misrepresentations. They are too common.
– They are the honorable member’s, not mine.
– The Prime Minister at Port Pirie was reported in his own party organs to have said that I “ opposed the referenda principles which I was then boosting.” I sent an ordinary letter to him saying that there must be some mistake, and that I would be glad to hear from him. He replied to the effect that he had been misreported. I regret that he is so often misreported.
– Is that not an obvious misreport?
– Now, page 25 of the official report of the proceedings of the Hobart Labour Conference does not indicate that I opposed the principle of the referendum, as the Prime Minister seeks to make out.
– It does not say so.
– The Prime Minister lays stress on the words that I “ opposed the motion.”
– On the ground that it was a Conservative principle.
– The motion was that the principle which is on our general platform should be placed on our fighting platform. The Prime Minister, as an exLabour man, knows that there is a marked difference between the general and the fighting platform of our party. I took exception to the item being placed upon our fighting platform.
– Because the honorable member was opposed to it as a principle.
– The Prime Minister now seeks to make it appear that I was opposed to the principle, knowing, at the same time, that there is no justification for his assertion.
– I quite agree with the desire of the’ Government to get the Works Estimates through in time for the re-assembling of another place. The Senate does not meet for another week, I understand.
– I hope that the Opposition will give us the Works Estimates to-morrow.
– I hope that we shall. Did I understand the Prime Minister to say that the late Administration had antedated the financial agreement entered into between the Fusion and the State Governments by six months?
– Yes. They kept back from the States the last half-year’s money to which we argued at the time they were entitled.
– Does the Prime Minister say that we ante-dated the agreement ?
– That is practically what the action of the late Government amounted to.
– We did not do anything of the kind.
Womanhood Suffrage : Statement by Siralmroth Wright - Small-pox Outbreak - Electoral Rolls : Objections.
Motion (by Mr. Joseph Cook) proposed -
That this House do now adjourn.
– I wish to bring under the notice of the Assistant Minister of Home Affairs an insult that has been placed on every politician in the House, and a stigma that has been put on 2,760,216 electors of Australia. This is not a party matter. Sir Almroth Wright, the director in medical charge of the department of therapeutic inoculation at St. Mary’s Hospital, London, who may be a brilliant scientist, but who, in my opinion, is lacking in common sense, and has acted with discourtesy towards a large portion of our people, has said that -
The woman voter in the colonies is only a pawn in the game of politics, and of the oppor tunist politicians who have enfranchised her. Remembering the great men who helped to give women the right to vote for the making of the laws which they, equally with men, have to obey - Sir John Forrest, Sir Edmund Barton, Mr. Deakin, Sir George Turner, Mr. Kingston, Mr. Justice O’Connor, Sir William Lyne, and others, including every member of the last Administration and of the present Administration - some notice should be taken of this statement. I should be very pleased to hear that the Government can see its way to send a protest to the gentleman who has made it. Any one who likes can read the noble words of Mr. Deakin - then Prime Minister - uttered when there was not time to pass a resolution to help our fellow-citizens under the English flag, but I shall quote a resolution passed on my motion on 25th November, 1910, which is a complete answer to the stigma that has been placed on members of this House, not one of whom but believes in women’s suffrage. I moved -
That this House is of opinion that the extension of the suffrage to the women of Australia for State and Commonwealth Parliaments on the same terms as to men has had the most beneficial results. It has led to the more orderly conduct of elections, and at the last Federal elections the women’s vote in a majority of the States showed a greater proportionate increase than that cast by men.
That has been so throughout -
It has given a greater prominence to legislation particularly affecting women and children, although the women have not taken up such questions to the exclusion of others of wider significance. In matters of Defence and Imperial concern they are proving themselves as far-seeing and discriminating as men.
That sentence was put in at the express desire of that great and good man, Mr. Alfred Deakin -
Though disaster was freely prophesied, the reform has brought nothing but good, our women taking their places in our system of representative government and effectively promoting its development.
That a copy of the foregoing resolution be cabled to the British Prime Minister.
Mr. Fuller had the honour of seconding the motion, which was carried unanimously, and a similar resolution was passed in the Senate by fifteen votes to four, two of those who voted against it not being now in political life. I have nothing to say in detraction of Sir Almroth Wright’s greatness in science, but when he attempts to besmirch the fair fame of every Australian citizen, I think I voice the opinions of every member of the House in saying that we resent it strongly.
– The honorable mem- ber for Melbourne has drawn my attention to the remarks of a gentleman who he tells us is pre-eminent in his own particular walk’ of life, but whose judgment in Australian concerns is hardly to be trusted, if the newspaper statement which the honorable member read truly conveys his opinions. We are only concerned here with what we know, and as the honorable member has put the question to me, I have no hesitation in saying that the statement which has been quoted is entirely without warrant, and a futile and silly reflection upon half the electors of Australia, and upon all its politicians. Like every other honorable member, I feel that there is every reason why women should have the right to vote, and no reason why they should not. As for their exercise of the franchise with discretion and wisdom, they have shown themselves in Australia to be as well able to so exercise it as have the sex to which we belong.
.- This afternoon there appeared to be some misunderstanding as to a question which I desired to ask regarding the small-pox outbreak in Sydney. In asking it, I had no desire to infringe any standing order, though you, Mr. Speaker, ruled that I must not ask the question. The subject on which I wish for information is of great importance, and the flippancy with which I was treated by the Minister is not creditable to him in the high office that he holds. When the proclamation quarantining Sydney was first issued, I told him that the course which he was taking was unnecessary, and I still hold that opinion, as do the citizens of Sydney. What I wanted toget from him this afternoon was an expression of opinion as to whether there are not more persons in Sydney now suffering from the effects of vaccination than there have been victims of small-pox quarantined at North Head, and whether there have not been more deaths from vaccination than from the epidemic? I wished also to ask the Minister whether those well qualified to give an opinion have not stated that there is no need for the quarantining of Sydney, and that there is no likelihood of the epidemic spreading. I wish to know from him whether that opinion had not been expressed by the Board of Health of New South Wales. Replying to the honorable member for Gwydir, the honorable gentleman said that the matter was entirely in the hands of the Board. The Board, however, has expressed the opinion that there is no need for the further quarantining of Sydney, and that it is quite prepared to take the responsibility of recommending the removal of the quarantine without fear of bad results.’ In the beginning, the Sydney newspapers stood by the. Minister, de fending his action in quarantining Sydney. I thought at the time that they had more care for the interests of the party they support than for the interests of the State, and I still hold that opinion. A fortnight ago there appeared this paragraph in the press-
– The honorable member must not deal with the quarantine proclamation.
– I wish to read an expression of opinion to the effect that there is no further need for the quarantine.
– The honorable member must not proceed too far on such lines, as he will anticipate the discussion of the motion on the business-paper, on which he himself is down for the resumption of the debate.
– This has occurred within the last few days, and since I gave notice of my motion. This is what appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald -
Those who are best qualified to speak do not now fear an increase in virulence. Even if we accept the dictum that it is true small-pox, it is not by any means the serious disease that we have been accustomed to conjure up under that name. Indeed, it would seem that many patients at the Quarantine Station at North Head have suffered much less than others who have been inoculated with cow-pox. To the lay mind, at least, an attack of small-pox such as we are now experiencing would, in many cases, be a less trying preventive against the real and deadly form of small-pox than vaccination is. At any rate, whether this be so or not, the fact remains that we are taking drastic steps to stamp out a disease that is far less deadly, as well as far less painful, than scores of other diseases, while, in the meantime, the whole of the business interests of the community are in jeopardy, and may remain so for months, or years, to come if the authorities continue obstinate.
Dr. Robertson went to Sydney with Dr. Cumpston, and returned to Melbourne with Dr. Cumpston, and, I presume, he had some influence on the Minister when the proclamation was issued.
Mr.Groom. - I never saw Dr. Robertson.
– It is very obvious to the ordinary man that Dr. Robertson’s name must have been mentioned. Let me quote Dr. Robertson’s report, which appeared a few days ago in the Melbourne papers, dealing with notifiable diseases to the 30th September last -
There were more cases of typhoid than at any time last year. There were 62 cases of pulmonary tuberculosis over the whole State, resulting in 25 deaths, and there were 40 cases in the metropolitan area with 20 deaths. There were 185 cases of diphtheria,89 being in the metropolitan area.
These diseases are far more dangerous than the skin disease at present prevailing in Sydney, for which the medical gentlemen in Sydney say there is no name. They say it is about the third or fourth cousin to small-pox; but as they have no proper name for it, they have to continue describing it as small-pox. When we see such a number of deaths in Melbourne from tuberculosis, and when there are no deaths in Sydney from the present epidemic, and no possibility of deaths, I think the people within 15 miles of the Post Office in Sydney are quite justified in asking for the removal of the proclamation that has been so long in force.
– Order !
– I apologize. I have gone further than I should. But you, Mr. Speaker, are member for Lang, and I can inform you that people in the Lang district have urged me to take this step. Also the Chairman of the Sydney Chamber of Manufactures, whom I met in conversation with the Prime Minister on this matter, has urged on me, and on the Government, the removal of the proclamation, and so have the President of the Chamber of Commerce, and aldermen of the city of Sydney.
– The honorable member is distinctly traversing the adjourned debate on his own motion, which reads as follows : -
That - with a view to putting an end to the suffering, sacrifice of human life, and the commercial, industrial, and domestic stagnation in the State of New South Wales, resulting from the proclamation and administration of the laws governing small-pox epidemics - this House is of the opinion that the proclamation should be cancelled, and that isolation, combined with sanitary reform, the true enemy of small-pox, should be substituted for the present injurious methods.
– I have no desire to transgress the rules of the House, but sometimes occasions arise when honorable members must go beyond the rules. This is one of those occasions. It is my desire to remove what I believe is unnecessary, and I am merely using all the forms of the House that I possibly can to do justice to the people I represent. I am sorry other honorable members representing the quarantined area have been so lacking in their duty, and have not been prepared to fight for the interests of their constituents.
.- Some time ago, I raised the question of what the Government had done to prevent the Electoral Registrars taking the wrong action in regard to the removal of names from the electoral rolls in accordance with the statement of the AttorneyGeneral on what Ministers term the cleansing of the rolls. A member of my household, who has never been out of it, has been notified as having left the address and being liable to be struck off the roll.
– There were many of those cases months ago.
– I have evidence that at least one public officer has resigned rather than suffer the humiliation and embarrassment of striking off suggested names.
– Who was that?
– It is not my place to give information of that kind. The AttorneyGeneral stated publicly, inside and outside the House, that this was to be done.
– And the right honorable gentleman has now stated publicly that one officer has resigned rather than do it.
– I have said that I have evidence that one officer has resigned rather than continue to act in this way.
– What has driven him out of the Service ?
– I presume it is the suggestion that he must send out notices telling people they are off the roll, when they ought not to be off the roll.
– Is it merely a presumption on your part, or is that the real cause of his resigning ?
– I have reason to believe it. I do not say that it is an absolute fact. But, interesting as it would be to honorable members, I shall not give the name of the officer.
– Does the right honorable gentleman say that this officer has left the Service owing to our having suggested to him that he should get people off the roll that ought to be kept on?
– I do not say that the Government, by duress or in any other way, have brought this about; but the circumstances are such that this officer desired to be freed from his office, and a prominent member of the Government has stated publicly that he hoped this course would be followed by the Registrars.
– What ? Putting people off the roll that should not be removed ?
– The Attorney- General said that some names should be struck off, and it was the suggested policy of the Government that there should be no 5s. fee such as is provided for in the Act, but that the officers should take a suggestion or hint from anybody, verbally or otherwise, to remove names from the roll.
– That suggestion as to the 5s. was the policy of the Department.
– It is the law.
– But the removal of the fee was merely the suggestion of the Electoral Officers.
– The Honorary Minister, as a member of the Executive Council, is sworn to obey the law, and he should first carry out the law, and then make suggestions.
– I am carrying out the law absolutely. Has the law been broken yet ? Come to your charges. Do not give us insinuations, but say where the law has been broken.
– The report in the newspaper shows that a letter had been received-
– Alleges that it had been received. I gave you to-day the answer of the Chief Electoral Officer.
– The report in the newspaper - and it is not a newspaper professing any political views I hold - is that, at a meeting of the Farmers Union, a letter had been received from the Electoral Registrar asking them to give information about persons having left the district, so that their names could be removed from the roll. This is certainly evidence. I do not say it is proof, but it is an indication of what they are thinking. Like statements come from various parts. Here is a case which occurred in my own household. It is stated that unless a reply is made within twenty days after the posting of the notice, the name of the person will be struck off the roll. Should not an Electoral Registrar have reasonable ground for believing that a person has left the district before he sends out a circular?
– Why do you assume that they have not; do you think that they do this wantonly?
– Because in one case the person whose name is objected to lives in my household, and has not been out of it for a number of years.
– If the right honorable gentleman’s suggestion is correct, that the Electoral Registrar has done it from sheer wantonness, he ought to be kicked out of the Service at once.
– The Electoral Registrars began to send out the notice in profusion since honorable members got into office; that is what I suggest.
– You are insinuating something.
– That is an absolute fact.
– Is it a fact out of the ordinary? That is what we want to get at.
– It is out of the ordinary.
– Surely the honorable member has known of many cases where a notice has been sent out.
– I am told that there are hundreds of cases.
– Months ago some cases were brought under my notice, and I had to investigate them. I found that in some instances there were two persons of the same name on the roll.
– He does not want to damn the Electoral Registrars, but to damn the Government.
– On a previous occasion I pointed out the trouble which will arise out of this inconsiderate and hasty action. Shearers who are away from their homes for four, or five, or six months will have little opportunity of replying to a circular within twenty days after the posting thereof. Of course, persons who never shift out of a spot may escape, but after my own experience there is no guarantee that they will. They may be able to keep their names on the roll, but persons who travel about the country will have very little chance indeed if notices are sent out at a particular period. The men and women who will suffer are the best men and women in this country. Those who are prepared to leave their homes and go elsewhere developing the country are likely to suffer, because of what I call an. extra-Executive statement made by the Attorney-General that something like this ought to be done in order to bring about what they please to call a ‘ ‘ cleansing the rolls.”
– Was not the period of twenty days mentioned in the notices sent out previously from time to time?
– Yes; it is nothing fresh.
– The honorable member is looking up to the press gallery to see that it is all right.
– I am not doing anything of the sort.
– That is an insinuation; there is nobody who looks up there as much as you do.
– I thought he was referring to me.
– The circular says that unless the recipient replies within twenty days after the posting of it, his name will be struck off the roll.
– Has not that always been the case?
– Of course it has.
– That is a fault in the drafting. I do not say whether it was the act of a previous Government or not.
– It was right when they did it; it is all wrong now. That is all the difference.
– The honorable gentleman is so eager to defend the AttorneyGeneral that he will not allow the facts of the case to be brought out. The difference between the present Administration and the previous one is that the former is attempting to set aside the law.
– Nothing of the kind.
– I say that the sum of 5s. is not demanded in the case of an objection being made.
– It has never been demanded where the Electoral Registrar thought that there was reasonable ground for objecting. Nobody knows that better than does the right honorable gentleman. It is not honest to insinuate anything different.
– Not in one case, but in hundreds of cases, has the money been demanded. In a case like this, unless the objector showed reasonable ground, the Electoral Registrar ought to have demanded the money.
– Do you know that only in one instance, to the best of my recollection, has the 5s. been paid up to the present time?. It is not honest to make these insinuations.
– That makes it all the worse.
– That is during the time you were in office.
– I presume, only in one instance.
– It was simply a dead letter.
– It is a dead letter to this extent, that the very fear of losing the 5s. made the people who otherwise would have objected very chary lest they should be penalized. Does the Minister not know that an objector gets back the money if the objection is a reasonable one? An objector is only penalized if his objection is made without reasonable ground. What complaint can be made on that score? I have no doubt that there are plenty of cases where an investigation has been made. The wording of this circular is anomalous. It reads -
If you fail to answer the objection within twenty days from the posting of this notice the objection will be determined, and your name will be struck off the roll, but no notice of the decision on the objection will be sent to you.
– The notice has never been altered.
– Section 72 of the Electoral Act reads -
On receipt of the answer of the person objected to, or after the expiration of twenty days from the posting of the notice, the Returning Officer shall determine the objection, and if it appears that the person objected to is not qualified or entitled to be enrolled on the roll, shall strike out his name.
– Does not the Minister of Trade and Customs see that every person who receives a notice of this kind must be careful to keep the envelope in which it comes?
– That provision is in the Act, and you left it there for three years.
– That is not the point. We are dealing with the question of protecting the public. The honorable member for Ballarat has pointed out to me that a stamp date appears on the back of a notice. The notice I hold in my hand is dated the 22nd, and the post-mark is the 26th. A person carelessly reading a notice of that kind may conclude that he has twenty days in which to reply, whereas he has only seventeen days, because of the delay in posting and delivery. I do not wish any one to think that I believe members of a Government, or any one else, with the exception of a rare few, would desire purposely to keep people off the rolls. But, because of a fear of corruption in regard to the compilation of the present rolls, there has grown up a feeling that would induce people of strong partisan views, not only to say, but to do certain things which they would not attempt to justify in public. It is for that reason that I think it absolutely necessary that a deposit of 5s., as required by the law, should be insisted upon in all cases. The Registrars, who are not highly remunerated, cannot personally inquire into every objection. They must accept the information supplied to them, and act upon it, unless they have reasonable grounds for believing that an attempt is being made to improperly strike a name off the roll. There are ten times too many of these circulars being sent out, and many industrious people, who have lived in the same place for three or four years, are being notified that their names will be struck off the rolls unless by letter, or in some other way, they make good their claim to enrolment. The names of these people should not be struck off, and I hope that the Government will prevent electors being annoyed by the receipt of such intimations when they ought really to be protected.
.- I have received several circulars similar to that which the Leader of the Opposition has brought under the notice of the House.
– Send them in, and they will be looked into.
– The trouble is that I get only a few of the many that are being sent out. In some cases no inquiry is being made prior to these notices of objection being issued.
– To what area does the honorable member refer?
– I have, for instance, received the following letter -
Dear Sir, - Enclosed receivea sample of how the rolls are going to be purified. I arrived in Creswick on the 8th day of September, 1869, just 44 years ago, and I have never been a month out of it since. My daughter is in the 42nd year of her age, and is in the same position that I am in, namely, that our names are objected to being on the roll, not having resided in Creswick a month…..
The letter is signed “ Daniel Grant, North Creswick.”
– Who sent out the notice of objection?
– The Registrar at Ballarat, who has to depend upon the Deputy Registrar at Creswick.
– The honorable member ought not to say that, unless it is a fact within his own knowledge.
– I have seen the Electoral Registrar, Mr. Wright, about the matter. He has. to take the word of the Deputy that full inquiry has been made.
– Who is the Deputy?
– I do not know his name.
– The fact that the honorable member does not know him makes his position all the stronger.
– But he is making a charge against him
– I have been to the Chief Electoral Officer, and these names are not to be removed.
– A Deputy Registrar need not make any inquiries. He has only to have reasonable ground for believing that an objection is a good one.
– They have been specially directed, under departmental instructions, to make inquiry and satisfy themselves.
– Liberal organizations in Ballarat have organizers going about solely with the object of obtaining information for the Electoral Registrars. That is the work for which they are engaged.
– That has always been done on all sides.
– Not by our party.
– I cannot blame these organizations, in view of the public information given by the Attorney-General. They are simply following his advice. Information is being supplied by them to the Registrars, and upon that information they are issuing these notices of objection. Without any inquiry whatever these notices are being sent out. I know of a case in which certain people who had resided in the same district for years receivednotice of objection, but said at once, “ We have not been out of the district for years, so that this notice is an absurdity.” They took no notice of it, and I suppose their names have been struck off the roll. They did not bother to reply. But we do not want to have struck off the rolls the names of those who are legitimately entitled to be enrolled.
– People who do not reply to a notice of objection deserve to have their names struck off.
– The Prime Minister, as one who hassprung from the ranks, knows that many- men would sooner do a hard day’s work than write a letter. Why should people who have resided in the same district for years be obliged to write letters to justify their enrolment, merely because some persons think fit to send in information to the Registrar with the evident intention of having their names removed from the roll.
– At the last election persons who had received notices of enrolment were found not to have been enrolled.
– Detectives were employed in Ballarat for weeks in making inquiries concerning the charge which the Honorary Minister has just made, and they reported that in every case, save one, they found the persons enrolled.
– I had specific cases where notices of enrolment were sent out to persons who found that they had not been enrolled, and I brought them before the Department.
– The honorable member ought to have too much self-respect to be slinging about these charges.
– We know how these cases occur. When a card is received it has to be noted, and a reply sent. If the postal officials are unable to deliver the circular in reply, it is returned to the. Department and duly noted.
– I presented to the Department a case in which a lady at Brisbane received notice of enrolment, and subsequently found that her name was not on the roll.
– That might have been due to a clerical error.
– Quite so. Then why suggest corruption where there may be an honest explanation?
– I should not do so but for the remarks made by the AttorneyGeneral, and the fact that the Government are breaking the law by failing to enforce the requirement as to the lodging of a deposit of 5s. with each objection.
– We are not breaking the law. There has been no change.
– If the Ministry will not take action, then we, as a party, ought to take action every day in order to direct public attention to this matter.
– In the last sentence uttered by him, the honorable member for Ballarat has unwittingly told the House exactly what is behind this agitation.
– What is it?
– Politics, pure andsimple.
– On your side.
– It is politics, pure and simple. Every one of these things which they can get hold of honorable members bring in here as proof, they fondly imagine, of enormities that are being perpetrated by the Liberal Government.
– That is our duty, surely.
– What are we here for?
– What is the honorable member here for? He is here to act uprightly, and notdishonestly, as his interjection suggests.
– It is more than a suggestion.
– The honorable member is not here to act dishonestly, as he now suggests he ought to do.
– I rise to a point of order. I ask that the Prime Minister should be called upon to withdraw his statement imputing dishonesty to the honorable member for Brisbane.
– I did not understand the Prime Minister to attribute dishonesty to the honorable member for Brisbane; but if the honorable member for Brisbane takes exception to the remark made by the Prime Minister, I have no doubt that it will be withdrawn.
– I take no objection.
– The honorable member for Brisbane has himself said that he is here for the purpose of exposing these enormities of the Liberal Government.
– I say that is a dishonest statement to make, and it is an infamous statement into the bargain.
– The honorable member is now distinctly out of order.
– The honorable gentleman should try and be dignified, for once.
– I am to be dignified while this political dirt throwing Is going on all round. We have the statement of the honorable member for Brisbane, of all others, that he is here for the purpose of exposing what he says are the enormities of the Liberal Government. These enormities consist in sending out the ordinary notices. There has been no change made of any kind.
– Oh, yes, there has.
– There has been no change made at all. Yet we are told by the honorable member for Ballarat that it is the purpose of honorable members opposite now to get hold of every one of these notices and bring them to the House, in order to expose what the Liberal Government are doing. Very well, now that honorable members have told us that, we shall know what notice to take of their protestations. They can bring their notices along, and I tell honorable members opposite that I, for one, will not take the slightest notice of their statements. The Government will do what they can in the Department to administer the Electoral Act honestly, and to try and secure a cleaner roll than we have now. That is our duty. If honorable members like to throw these innuendoes around and make charges that have not a tittle of justification, they are bound to recoil ultimately upon their own heads.
– Ministers’ ideas of making the rolls pure is to wipe out Labour voters.
– Here is another wild and whirling statement.
– I ask the honorable member for Melbourne Ports to withdraw his statement. It is not in order for an honorable member to impute improper motives to other honorable members.
– I did not reflect upon the Prime Minister, but upon the Ministry.
– That is not in order.
– I withdraw the statement, if it is not in order.
– Ishould first make inquiries to learn whether the notices were not due to an honest mistake before I brought them to this House to make charges such as honorable members opposite now make on the strength of them. There is neither reason nor fairness in their conduct. The right honorable member for Wide Bay toned his remarks down towards the close of his speech, and left it to those behindhim to make all sorts of charges and allegations, based upon what, no doubt, when the matter comes to be investigated, will be found to be a simple and honest mistake. That is a kind of political warfare that cannot be regarded as fair in any sense.
– What about the Creswick case?
– I say that the Creswick case needs inquiry, that is all. What more can we say ? But I do object to these insinuations that beneath every one of these notices there is some deep and dark-laid plot.
– Hear, hear ! That is correct.
– Then, I have no more to say, but that I will treat these statements with the contempt they deserve.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 11.25p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 9 October 1913, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1913/19131009_reps_5_71/>.